Children Should Play Outside Daily
Becoming an adult seems to bring about an amnesia about the simple pleasures of childhood. Take the appeal of making mud pies, or simply playing in the sandbox. While children do these activities for fun, these natural forms of play are actually health-promoting. As if to prove the point, a recent study points to the value of even 15 minutes of outdoor play (aka recess) during school. It seems that dirt (and the germs that are reside in it) have been contributing to human survival, and so children need the regular contact with the elements outside in order to thrive. In studies of hygiene, it appears that the millions of bacteria, viruses and worms that enter the body along with the dirt, foster development of a healthy immune system and may contribute to a positive mood, too.
In support of the 5-second rule
What’s the one thing that causes most new parents angst? The invisible germs that go into babies mouth along with everything else they pick up off the floor. Now there’s good news. If a bit of food falls on the floor and is picked up quickly, it can still be eaten (or in the case of a pacifier, popped back into the baby’s mouth without boiling it first).–this is known as the 5-second rule. When children put things into their mouths, they are stimulating an interaction between their immune response and the environment, according to Mary Ruebush, PhD, an immunology specialist, and author of Why Dirt Is Good (Kaplan, 2009). The human immune system is like an unprogrammed computer that awaits instruction. When new or unfamiliar microorganisms are introduced to the body, the developing immune system teaches itself to adapt to these intruders by producing a memory so the body can respond appropriately to future such exposures.
Efforts to promote food safety and clean up contaminated land certainly saves lives, but these same measures also reduce the chance exposure to many organisms that may be good for us. While the infectious disease experts caution that we don’t need to turn back the clock, we need a little less concern, too. Extremes of contact wth toxic chemicals and overcleanliness are exacting a price on our health in ways you might not imagine. The most obvious effect is the growing resistance to antibiotics. So, we must find the right balance in living with organisms in our daily environment. It’s all about choices. For example, getting a flu shot to avoid influenza and having our children vaccinated to avoid disease such as polio, mumps and measles is worthwhile because the cost is low and the potential to avoid unnecessary illness nearly absolute.
Dr. Ruebush reminds us that bacteria are everywhere: on us, in us and all around us. In fact, there are about 90 trillion microbes residing peacefully in the human body that are responsible for keeping us healthy. Since most of these microorganisms cause no harm, and some, like those coexisting in our gastrointestinal tract, actually protect us and promote a heatlhy immune system. The wide range of antibacterial products from soaps to sprays offer a false sense of security, these products are producing an oversantized world that encourages bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Plain soap and water are all that are needed, according to Dr. Ruebush. “I certainly recommend washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating,…and after handling food,” and
whenever hands are visibly soiled. And, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good option when no running water is available.
The Pleasures of Childhood Could be Lifesaving
What could be better than a mud bath on the beach
How did the conversation get so far beyond the joy of a simple mud pie? Infectious disease experts urge parents to let children to play barefoot in the dirt, and not to insist they wash their every time they come inside. After all, children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases. Having pets helps too because they will expose us to dirt and intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system. Set the children free to play outside and to get dirty. So send children out to play daily, and don’t fret if they kick off their shoes or dig for treasure. The more children interact with the environment, the more physically active they’ll be, and they’ll be boosting their health in many other positive ways, too.