Put down that antibacterial soap for a second, slide that sterilized mug aside and take a look at this report: Clean habits are mucking up good health.
It's true, my squeamish friends. To put some hale into the heartiness, yank off the gloves and go play in the dirt.
Health studies say we'd do well for ourselves to close the laptops, pocket the cellphones and open the door. It turns out that nature ranks as a more powerful restorative than anti-depressants, elixirs and other drugs.
Plus, it's dirt cheap.
My mom knew all about this. Whenever we kids busied ourselves jumping on beds, leap-frogging the dining room table and playing Frisbee with dinner plates, Mom - concerned that we may not live past lunchtime - yelled, ''Get outside and play!''
So we ran Tonka trucks through the dirt driveway, dug up worms even before we planned to go fishing, and raced bicycles through mud puddles, sometimes not quite staying attached to said bikes. It saved our lives.
Science magazine published research at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston that backs up Mom's diagnosis.
Exposure to dirt and germs early in life helps the immune system develop and stave off allergies, asthma and other immune-related diseases later in life, scientists said in the report.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, simply having contact with dirt, from gardening to making mud pies, can ''significantly improve a child's mood and reduce their anxiety and stress. ... Dirt can even improve classroom performance.''
I don't know if you've noticed, but nature is just chock full of dirt. It's all over the ground. In fact, it IS the ground. Besides battling obesity, just getting good and dirty is another reason to run outside and play.
I grew up on a farm, and let me tell you, you can't play in the cow pasture without splatting through a few... come to think of it, I did step pretty carefully through the cow pasture. There was only so much health that I could stand.
I come from an era when parents let us roll in the grass, play in the mud, ride skates without kneepads and pedal our bikes everywhere without helmets.
''Ah ha!'' you said. ''No helmets. Things become more clear.''
It's not only outside that you need such protection. If you harbor the illusion that you're safer indoors, consider this: Science surveys rank the five germiest, gunkiest, yuckiest things in the house as the kitchen sink, the bathtub, the remote control, the trash can and doorknobs, in that order.
The toilet ranks seventh-dirtiest.
Kids can either sit indoors in nicely pressed clothes and catch colds from the remote control - ending up as walking coughing machines - or they can dig for dinosaur bones, collecting a fine assortment of grass stains, and breathe freely.
The downside, as far as we boys were concerned, was that Mom always insisted on washing all our accumulated health down the bathtub drain.
Had these reports come out sooner, maybe we could have negotiated our way out of a few baths. And the antibacterial soap.
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