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Can Playing in the Dirt Make You Smarter?

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If you need yet another good reason to convince yourself or your kids to go outside and get your hands in the dirt, here it is: new research reveals that a bacterium in the soil not only lowers depression and anxiety but also can make you smarter!

Science Daily reports that "exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior."

The new research was presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

"Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breathe in when they spend time in nature," says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.

Previous research studies on M. vaccae showed that heat-killed bacteria injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain that resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety... "This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

The science supporting the mental health benefits of gardening and outdoor activities in general just gets stronger with each new study. We need to help our kids -- and ourselves -- recover from what author Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) calls "nature deficit disorder."

These studies encourage all of us to support our local communities by building a school garden at every educational institution in our area, increasing the availability of community gardens for everyone who wants a plot of soil to dig their fingers into and -- perhaps most important -- shrinking our lawns and growing some of our own food.

Smart moves!

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100524143416.htm

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