Playing in the mud makes kids less anxious and smarter

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A story just out in the Montreal Gazette, states that not only will playing in the dirt make kids less anxious, it might also improve their cognitive function.

They are referring to a study presented at the 110th general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego which found that mice that had been exposed to bacteria found in soil were able to navigate a maze twice as fast as other mice used in controls and with less anxiety.

It was three years ago that Dr Dorothy Matthews started to look into a particular bacteria found in soil known as Mycobacterium vaccae, apparently after British scientists published findings that when mice were injected with a version of the microbe it stimulated their brain cells into producing serotonin.

“Serotonin is a molecule that has a number of different effects, but one of them is modulating mood and decreasing anxiety,” Matthews, an associate professor of biology at The Sage Colleges in Troy, NY is quoted as saying by the Montreal Gazette.

“If you’re nervous, if you’re frightened, you just can’t think straight” said Matthews.

So basically Dr Matthews wondered if the bacterium might also have an effect on learning in mice and by the sounds of things she was right.

The mice that had been exposed to the bacteria were able to run round the maze twice as fast as other mice and exhibited less anxious behaviour such as wall climbing, stopping, grooming, and defecating amongst others.

Then when the bacteria were removed, the mice slowed down, although not to levels as slow as the controls mice, and the researchers believe that this could have been because of less serotonin, in other words, they experienced serotonin withdrawal.

The researchers concluded that as we have lost touch nature, we have also lost touch with an organism that might actually be highly beneficial to humans.

According to Mathews, we are exposed to these bacteria when we are outside but in the last 100 years or so we have become more urbanised and are not eating naturally grown foods and instead are eating foods that have been washed, processed or grown with pesticides.

She reckons that if children played outside more or if schools made time in the curriculum for kids to get out in nature, then their ability to learn new tasks could improve and their anxiety levels could decrease.

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