A healthy immune system is built by eating healthy, sleeping well, exercising AND getting outside in nature!
Have you ever noticed that kiddos who are constantly outside — building forts, riding bikes, picking flowers, barefoot with mud between their toes, are rarely ever sick?
As a mom of 5, I sure have!
At first, it doesn’t make sense.
Wouldn’t the kids who are primarily inside — never dirty, regularly washing their hands, and using disinfectant at every turn — be the healthiest ones?
You would think so.
But, the thing is, exposure is what makes your kiddo’s immune system strong. It’s what builds a rock-solid foundation for the years to come.
See, when your little one’s body is exposed to germs, irritants, and allergens through playing outside, their body has the opportunity to identify these things and build healthy autoimmune responses.
Let’s dive into the biology behind this and how you can boost your child’s immune system.
How Your Immune System Works
Your immune system is made up of white blood cells, organs, your lymphatic system, and antibodies.
These all work together to protect your body from harmful microbes (substances such as germs, bacteria, viruses, toxins, or chemicals) that could make you sick.
Anything that triggers an immune response is called an “antigen.”
When you’re exposed to an antigen for the first time, your body takes a little longer to learn about it and find a way to destroy it.
This process involves your immune system becoming activated and fighting off the intruder. That's why you may experience symptoms such as fever, rash, or tender lymph nodes.
Once the antigen has been defeated, a permanent record of this specific irritant is stored in the immune system’s memory cells.
If that substance ever tries to enter your body again, your immune system will identify it and destroy it much faster.
You might not even know you’ve been exposed to an antigen because of how fast-moving and strong your immune system has become!
Sometimes it may feel as if you’re fighting the same cold over and over, but the truth is — each of those colds are probably a different strain of the virus. Each round, then, is considered a new exposure.
Just remember, each time you get sick, you actually become stronger and stronger.
With all that in mind, here are the 5 reasons why kids should play outside and get dirty in order to build a strong immune system:
1. Playing in the Sun Builds Vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital to a healthy immune system.
It fights off infection and gets your T cells moving.
What are T cells? These guys are a type of white blood cell that detect dangerous pathogens.
Once detected, your T cells signal other types of white blood cells to swoop in and extinguish them.
If you're not getting enough vitamin D, your T cells don’t have the energy to do their job effectively.
When your kids are playing outside, they’re getting a healthy dose of vitamin D from the most effective source out there — natural sunshine.
Just 20-30 minutes of sun exposure two times a week is all they need to meet their daily required intake for optimal health.
2. Active Kids = Healthier Kids
Kids have a lot of energy and it’s healthy for them to expel that energy outside in nature.
Nothing beats the outdoors for jumping, skipping, hopping, riding bikes, swimming and throwing balls.
Being in this environment develops your child’s physical and motor skills. All that activity strengthens their muscles and bones, which plays a key role in their overall health.
Did you know that movement gets your lymphatic system stimulated and pumping?
The lymphatic system flushes out all those nasty toxins that have built up in your body over time.
This gives your immune system a boost.
So, if your kids are sitting in front of a screen all day, those toxins stay put and can have a variety of negative effects on their health.
3. Outside Play Reduces Anxiety and Promotes Happiness
Spending time in nature reduces anxiety significantly, and we all know that kids are more stressed than ever today.
When you’re focusing on the external environment, you’re letting go of internal feelings of worry or maybe even fear.
Playing outside is a healthy outlet that frees the mind and impacts how you feel mentally and physically.
Outdoor sunshine also stimulates the pineal gland, which is located in your brain and is responsible for feelings of happiness and gratefulness.
Isn’t that worth a walk around the neighborhood?
4. Being Outdoors Builds the Gut Microbiome
In a recent study that examined the immune systems of kids growing up on rural farms, it was discovered that these children were less likely to have allergies, asthma, or autoimmune conditions because of the extended time they spent outside.
When a child is exposed to molecules found in the soil, it actually improves the immune system and promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
When studying the impact on allergies, scientists have found that exposing kids to more bacteria in certain ways can actually help prevent allergies altogether.
Please note that it’s important to discern between good dirt and bad dirt.
Good dirt includes natural soil, whereas bad dirt is chemically contaminated or found near pet feces. So, use good judgment on where your child is playing.
Allowing your kids to get dirty in rich clean soil — and even eating a little (gasp, I know!) — may do wonders for building a diverse gut microbiome, which leads to a super healthy immune system!
5. Playing Outside Promotes Healthy Sleeping Habits
Is your kid having sleeping issues? Maybe they have a hard time falling asleep, or they wake up often throughout the night?
Studies show that when kids regularly play outside, their sleeping habits drastically improve.
What’s the reasoning behind this?
When your child is exposed to regular and consistent sunlight, their inner clock becomes synchronized with the natural rhythms of daytime and nighttime.
This means their body starts properly producing melatonin in the evening, and when bedtime rolls around, their internal gears are already shifting and preparing them for a good night’s rest.
So if your kid isn’t ready for bed when it’s bedtime, spending more time outside during the day and exposing them to more sunlight could be the answer.
Also, remember it’s important to limit blue light (artificial light) for at least an hour before bedtime.
This prevents the artificial light from interfering with the natural internal clock rhythm. Otherwise, your outdoor efforts could be rendered less effective.
Let Your Kids Get Dirty!
Your child’s immune system is begging to be exposed to the world — to dirt, bacteria, plants, animals… you name it!
Think about working out. If you don’t build your muscles consistently, they’ll stay weak and small, right?
But if you stimulate your muscles, challenge them, and really make them work on a regular basis — they’ll become strong and be ready to take on anything.
That’s exactly how you need to view your immune system.
Let your kids get dirty! Let them make mud pies, play in the rain, and run around barefoot.
As a matter of fact, join them. It’s good for all immune systems, no matter your age!
Tips for Healthy Bodies
- Skip the sanitizer — it doesn’t allow your child to be exposed to bacteria that builds the immune system. Oversterilizing is a real issue and can result in kids getting sick more often.
- Don’t use antibacterial soaps — instead, use a mild soap and warm water. It works just as well but doesn’t completely strip everything away.
- It’s ok to eat a little dirt — does that make you cringe? It’s true though. Leave a little dirt on your freshly picked produce, or let your kid eat the food they dropped on the ground. It’s also ok if they decide to paint their faces with some mud. A little will help build their gut microbiome faster than you realize!
- Eat healthy — building a healthy immune system always starts with what you put in your body. Be sure to eat a well-balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, greens, protein, nuts and seeds.
- Take a daily dose of Organic Elderberry Syrup — sometimes, it’s impossible to incorporate all the vitamins and minerals your kids need each and every day. That’s why my kiddos and I take a simple dose of elderberry syrup every morning to give our immune systems the boost they need to stay healthy no matter what!
Looking for fun ways to incorporate elderberry syrup into your kiddo’s everyday foods? Give these easy elderberry recipes a try: