by Meriam Dineva
Bachelor of Science in Health Studies |  Austria

by Paola  Dineva
Teacher  in Training |  Netherlands

"Wash your hands"  "Don't touch your face!"  "Do  not  use  public transportation!"

"Don't play  with that!" We  have  heard statements like these over and over again during the past year. In a way they have  become part of our everyday life.  In  the midst of a worldwide pan­emic, the word hygiene has taken on  a whole different meaning. For  some of  us  this might have  been an eye-opener and for  others a confirmation that germs are  everywhere. But   are germs always bad? Is stringent hygiene always necessary? What  if  some germs are  actually good for  us? In this article we  will  take a closer look  at  this controversial topic and learn  more about the benefits of an occasional jump into a dirty puddle.

Many might consider hygiene a mod­ ern  practice. However, if you  take  a peek  into history books  you  will  dis­ cover   that  ancient civilizations were actually relatively advanced in regard to hygiene. For  instance, the Mayas had   very   sophisticated   systems of sanitation and water  management; Romans invented public toilets, bath­ houses, and  impressive sewer systems;   and  Egyptians esteemed  hy­giene an  important  cultural virtue. However,   there  were   also  cultures that  regarded exaggerated hygiene as a danger to one's personal health. For example, in  the 19th century the French believed that excessive  bath­ing  might strip the  skin's  protection a nd  make the  body more prone to disease. All these  facts make far more impressive  the astonishing   Biblical instructions that Israelites were to follow with meticulous care. A study of  Leviticus shows  how  specific the guidelines  were  and  how  they were meant to both prevent and eradicate disease. In  fact, you  might be  surprised  that the concept of quarantine is actually found in the  Bible. See Levitic us 5:2-3; 131-40;14:8; 15:13, etc.

However, even though God had a rea­ son  for  specific hygiene procedures, we now live in a society that has taken hygiene to the  next  level. Everything is sanitized and  beautifully packaged and displayed on store shelves. While our   predecessors dug  their   hands into dirt to earn  their  daily  bread, we now seldom come anywhere near the stuff In a sedentary society  in which children hardly ever  play outside and follow strict hygiene rules at home, at school, and everywhere else, a greater question arises. Is it possible that we are over-sanitizing  our  children? The fear that germs are lurking all around us  is  understandable-to  some  ex­ tent. After  all, everyone remembers the time  when  thousands died   in

the  Middle Ages  because of  the  vi­olation of basic  hygiene rules. Then doctors and  scholars such  as lgnaz Semmelweis ca me  to the realization that simple handwashing in  hospi­tals might prevent numerous deaths. But  then again, it is in a way ironic  to read  in  Leviticus 15:13 that a recovering person should "bathe his flesh in running water and .   be clean"   and realize that God had already given us long  ago  all the information needed to protect ourselves.

So   now  you    may   ask  yourselves: "What is your point? Are we washing too much or too little? Where a re you going with this discussion?" Let us ex­ plain.

Before  the  invention of computers, smartphones, and tablets, the typical childhood pastime  involved  playing outside, jumping into puddles, build­ing  forts   and   sand   castles,   climbing   trees,   chasing  butterflies,  and so much  more.  Nowadays, however, children hardly ever  see the sunlight because they spend a significant part of  their   time  behind closed   doors staring at screens.  In fact,  today  "we are raising a generation of sedentary kids  who would much rather sit  on the couch with a game controller and Mario than be  outside armed only with a stick and their  imagination[s]" (Kennedy,  2018). But  what does  this mean  for   their    immune systems? First of all, there are two types of immune systems: the innate, or general, immune system  and the adaptive, or specialized, immune  system. The innate  immune system  is what we  are born with. It is the body's first defense against  germs,  bacteria, and  viruses.  This  protection is offered by  the body's largest organ, the skin, which acts as a physical barrier  for anything that might be  harmful. If germs get past the skin's surface, however, then defense cells,  enzymes,  and  natural

killer  cells  are  activated and  start  acharn  reaction that  identifies and neutralizes or  destroys harmful sub­ stances. If the innate immune system is not  able to destroy the  germs, the adaptive immune system  takes over. The adaptive system needs  to identi­fy a nd afterwards target the  germ(s) that cause  the infection. This process to find the intruder can take a bit lon­ner, but  it is way  more accurate. The specialized  immune system  has the abilities to" remember" germs oneeen­ countered and  reacts  immediately if the body comes in contact with them again. The adaptive system  is the rea­ son  we get  some illnesses  only  once or have a milder infection the second time around.

But  how  do  our  bodies learn  which germs to  target? After  all, there  are untold numbers of germ species, and most of them are not  harmful to the majority of  people Some  germs are even beneficial. In order  to work efficiently, the adaptive immune system " needs  to know which substances in the environment are  harmless and which pose  a threat. Without that training, the  immune system  can  go into overdrive, triggering dangerous reactions when it s shouldn't" (Stevens, 2019). Fortunately, however, many regularly encountered mic robes have the ability to  educate our  immune systems.  In the  following paragraphs we  will  learn  how   playing outdoors ca n  benefit children's  immune sys­tems and make children happier.

Getting dirty can decrease a child's risk  for allergies, asthma, and  oth­er health problems

Many  parents try to "protect" their children from harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses  by giving instructions to  wash   hands with soap  and  stay away  from dirt.  The problem is that antibacterial I   soaps and sanitizers are not  able  to  determine which  germs to kill. Consequently, the agents remove both good germs and   bad  ones.  This  means that these products desensitize  the immune system and  make it unable to respond to threat when confronted with it. Because of an increase in  allergies, a  theory  called "The   Hygiene  Hypothesis" emerged. It "suggests [that] a young child's environment can be  'too clean' to effectively stimulate  or  challenge the child's immune system to respond to various threats during the time a child's immune system is maturing" (Davis & Stoppler, 2018)

This indicates that when we try to protect our  children by incessantly using hand sanitizers and  antibacterial products,  we  may actually be  inhibiting  health and resilience. On  the contrary, children's bodies become more resilient when exposed to germs and  pathogens-and the risks for immune  system disorders like  asthma, allergies, and  in­flammations in adulthood are reduced significantly.

Playing  in  dirt  might  increase  your  serotonin  level and raise your mood

Getting covered in mud actually results in surprising benefits, even  though the activity causes headaches for  a lot of  moms. Studies have  shown that direct contact with the soil  improves children's moods and   reduces anxiety. In fact,  a study from the University of Bristol showed that bacteria found in the soil can cause effects similar to those resulting from the use of antidepressant drugs. The study suggests that these bacteria have  the ability to increase "the release of serotonin in  parts of the brain that  regu­late mood"  (University of Bristol, 2007). It is not surprising that children have  so  much fun digging for  stones and worms and  making mud pies.  So next  time you  see your child covered in  mud, worry less about the extra  laundry and  enjoy the fact  that your child is happy and healthy.

Playing with mud increases creativity

Mud is like  Plasticine, or  Play-Doh, and  provides endless opportunities to develop creativity and  sensory and  problem-solving skills.  A recent study revealed "a strong and significant link  between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in  the cerebellum, the area of  the brain controlling movement" (National Geographic, 2018). A lot  of brain work takes place when children are  playing in mud. Who knows, maybe the child who builds a house with mud will   one day  be  an  architect or  construction worker. Or the child who operates on a "mud patient" will become a doctor. Children are  naturally programmed to learn  by touching, building, getting dirty, and  having fun in something as simple as dirt. All mess aside,  playing with mud is a great developmental practice.

Playing outside sensitizes children to climate  change

Here's  one extra   point that has  no  correlation with the health of  our   children: As  we  all  know, climate change has been a big  topic in recent years.  It is very  important to take good care  of our  planet because it is our  home and grows our food. A study published by the University of British  Columbia was  able to validate the idea  that children with positive childhood experiences in nature are more interested in protecting, preserving, and  cherishing nature when they reach adolescence. Thus,  today's good habits will  have  a good impact on the next generation.

The  above-mentioned points are  fascinating. They  show that the outdoors is the world's greatest playground and school. Being outdoors helps children to  develop not   only their immune systems but also their mental health. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that  good  dirt  is  found  in unspoiled nature, away from the contaminants of  modern-day industrialization. This article does not  discredit basic  sanitation measures, but rather encourages parents to let  their chil­dren have  fun and  explore the world around them. There is nothing wrong with  using soap and   water or  hand sanitizer every once in a while. How­ ever,  it is important to keep in mind that balance is key. "God  has  put into children a desire to play in the natural world. Encourage their discovery. Get yourself and  your child outside and don't worry about getting dirty.


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