Get Dirty!

Science says grab a handful of soil or hike a muddy trail, it can benefit everything from your mood to your microbiome!

Holly Burns at the New York Times recently provided a summary of these findings in her article “A Little Bit of Dirt Is Good for You.” She interviewed Christopher A. Lowry, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, and his recommendations are below.

  • Embrace the dirt while you move. Activities like mountain biking, camping and hiking are easy ways to come into contact with a diverse microbial ecosystem, Dr. Lowry said. “I think we underestimate how much exposure we get from simply being outside.”

  • Plant or pick something. Gardening has long been associated with reduced depression, anxiety and stress, and it calls for plenty of time spent working in the dirt. When people ask him how to get started, Leigh Johnstone, a gardener and mental health advocate in Southampton, England, who goes by “The Beardy Gardener” to his 21,000 Instagram followers, asks them one question: “Well, what do you like to eat?” Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grow, said Mr. Johnstone, because they need very little maintenance and can be planted in a pot or hanging basket on a balcony. He also suggested strawberries and herbs like basil, mint or chives.

  • Do like the kids do. Jill Dreves, the founder of Wild Bear Nature Center in Nederland, Colo., has a simple recipe for getting dirty: Make a mud pie. She suggested throwing something similar to a sip and paint event: Ask everyone to bring an old cake pan and get creative with mud. “Bring out some rocks and beads to press into them, collect some pretty leaves, press your hands or feet in,” said Ms. Dreves, who has organized mud pie parties with her staff. “We save that kind of thing for little kids, but really, as adults, we need to be doing more of it.” If you have actual kids to entertain, build a fairy garden, Ms. Yurich said. Gather leaves and moss to create a miniature, magical landscape, using sticks to construct huts, bark for the floor and stones for seating. Mr. Johnstone and his 2-year-old daughter like making bug hotels, which encourage insects to shelter inside. They also make seed bombs, which you can assemble any time of year, then store until spring or autumn to throw around the yard, Mr. Johnstone said. “A lot of people still have this nervousness around touching soil,” he said. But for him, “it makes me happy.”