The Dirt on Getting Dirty
Let’s walk through a typical day in the life of an American: You wake up every morning and shower, washing your body and hair with shampoos and soaps that you most likely got at your local grocery store. Afterwards, you make breakfast. For the sake of making a point, let’s say you’re going to eat an apple. You wash that apple— really well— to get any dirt off of it. Afterwards, you brush your teeth, probably with a brand-name toothpaste you bought because it boasts a super-clean effect. Then you take out the trash, making sure to put shoes on before you head outside, and you come back inside and wash your hands with antibacterial soap.
You’re thinking, “Yep, great, that sounds like a typical morning. What’s your point?”
The point is this: We have an obsession with cleaning everything. In our culture, clean is good. The cleaner, the better. We have been brought up around the idea that dirt is just plain dirty, and everything needs to be washed— constantly. We sterilize our homes with bleach, cleaners, and soaps. We wear shoes almost all of the time to keep our feet clean and protected from whatever might lie underfoot on our voyage to the great, dirty outdoors. The problem here is that we’ve been mislead our entire lives: Dirt is actually good for us.
We may have evolved tremendously as a human race, but we used to thrive in nature, and our need for exposure to soil hasn’t disappeared. Our prehistoric relatives didn’t have a shirt on their backs, let alone a pair of shoes to run through the woods with. Now, we live in clean, pristine homes and work in clean, pristine office buildings. Very rarely do you meet someone who works outdoors— whether for leisure or a living. Here’s why you should break that norm:
- Dirt (a combination of broken-down rocks, leaves, and other decaying organic matter) is necessary for our immune systems to function at their optimum capacity— especially for children who are just developing theirs. Dirt contains microbes (microscopic living organisms). While microbes of various types can thrive just about anywhere on earth, it is easiest for us to be exposed to the ones right below our feet. Yes, microbes are responsible for diseases and viruses; but this is exactly the exposure we need to build up our immune system.
- There’s this thing called stress that we all experience from time to time. Exposure to soil and all of the components it has actually has mood-boosting, cortisol-lowering effects on us. Have you ever met an angry gardener? (Chances are, probably not).
- The Earth has a field of energy flowing around and through it that also has benefits to our health, however, wearing shoes while walking on grass, soil or sand inhibits these benefits. Walking barefoot (also called “grounding” or “earthing”) has been shown in studies to help with inflammation, sleep quality, and a number of other things.
Now that we know getting a little dirty is good for us, take action! Get out and garden, take a barefoot walk, wash your organic produce —but not TOO well— or do it the old-fashioned way, and just get outside with your kids and play in the mud. Ditch the anxiety of getting dirt under your nails— you can always clean up later. And when your kids track muddy footprints through the house, welcome the healthy microbes and reach for a simple wet paper towel instead of bleach!