A group of scientists recently published a study of young, healthy males who had grown up in both urban and rural settings. They wanted to investigate the relationship between growing up with animals and the immune system’s reaction to stressful situations.
Participants were asked to arrive at the laboratory in the afternoon, but they were not told what tests would be held that day. Scientists evaluated each person’s health upon arrival to make sure that data would not be skewed.
Heart rate and blood pressure were assessed for each individual before the tests, and blood and saliva samples were collected.
They were then asked to perform a series of short tests that would allow scientists to see how their bodies reacted to stress-inducing situations.
Participants went through a three-minute job interview, a five-minute public speaking task, and a three-minute math problem.
After the tests, the same health measurements were conducted to see how each participant’s body reacted initially and over time.
The results showed that all participants experienced an initial spike in their cortisol hormone. This hormone causes a “fight or flight” reaction to a perceived threat.
The group of men who grew up on a farm with animals showed a higher initial spike in anxiety than those that grew up in a city with no pets.
The immune system reactions of both groups showed something interesting.
While the those who grew up in a rural setting initially showed more anxiety, their immune systems calmed down after five minutes. The immune systems of those who grew up in an urban setting continued to be on high alert for about two hours after the tests.
The scientists who conducted the study believe that their findings support the “hygiene theory” which argues that exposure to the microorganisms found in dirt and animals while young helps build a stronger immune system.
They also recognize that those who grew up on a farm may have benefited from the more natural environment.
Based on a study conducted in 2007, “Natural landscapes provide a stronger positive health effect compared with urban landscapes, resulting in accelerated short-term recovery from stress or mental fatigue, faster physical recovery from illness, and long-term overall improvement on people’s health and well-being.”
Whether it was due to being around animals or being in the great outdoors, those who grew up on a farm seem to be able to handle stress better over time than those who grew up in a city. What do you think about this study?
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