We wonder, especially after a few days camping in the rain with four kids, getting dirty, clambering up trails through the forest, why we do this? It’s work, and lots of it, and often physically demanding and uncomfortable work. And yet at the end, well before the end in fact, of each camping trip, the kids are getting along amazingly well and we are all relaxed and chilled out, refreshed despite the effort. Or maybe because of it. That’s what I’ve always figured — that like the spirit-developing characteristics of fasting — a little physical discomfort and some outdoor busy work were good for what ailed the modern soul. And I’m sure that’s still part of it. But in addition, I was listening to the Stuff to Blow Your Mind podcast on microbiomes tonight while doing the dishes and came across a reference to mycobacterium vaccae.
These little critters, it turns out, are a soil bacterium you’re going to breathe in if you are spending time in the great outdoors. Some experiments (check out this piece from Science Daily) have shown this bacteria makes you smarter, boosts serotonin and decreases anxiety.
So camping, running, hiking or just digging in your garden might be a natural high. Combine the endorphin rush of a good long run on a dirt trail kicking up plenty of mycobacterium vaccae, and is there any wonder we’re all getting hooked?
That’s the happy news. The creepier news is the rest of the microbe soup we live in day to day, in addition to our own tailor-made microbiomes we share as we move through the world. Check out the podcast for details, including, shudder, the matter that gets aerosolized and sprayed all over the office each time the toilet is flushed. Of course, fresh air disperses those microbes. So open a window. Better yet, get outdoors and go for a run.