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Why a country getaway is just what the doctor ordered

News — Posted 15/05/14

Getting out in the fresh air and being exposed to healthy rural microbes reduces the risk of asthma, allergies and irritable bowel syndrome in city-dwellers.

Retreating from the noise and bustle of the city for a weekend relaxing in the countryside is an appealing idea – and it may be just what the doctor ordered. New research suggests that getting out in the fresh country air and being exposed to rural microbes not usually found in cities is good for your health.

The immune system and inflammation

The immune system is designed to produce an inflammatory response that fights off infection. When the immune system is working well, the inflammation reduces once the infection is gone. If your immune function is impaired, the inflammation persists, which can lead to a number of health problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), asthma and allergies.

How healthy rural microbes help

These healthy microbes can help keep the immune system from overreacting – that is, triggering an inflammation when it’s not necessary, as in the case of asthma attacks, allergic reactions and chronic inflammatory disorders. City-dwellers who don’t often leave the city are exposed to less of these microbes, and this, the researchers suggest, can cause immune system dysfunction that can lead to persistent inflammation problems.

“Chronic inflammation can lead to all kinds of problems from irritable bowel syndrome to asthma to allergies and even depression,” says Christopher Lowry, an associate professor in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology and a co-author of the paper. “The rise of chronic inflammation and these associated disorders, especially among people living in the cities of developed countries, is troubling.

"We hope that these insights will help to focus attention on the need for increased hygiene, coupled with innovative design for homes and sustainable cities that promote appropriate microbial exposures.

“Meanwhile there is enormous need for greater understanding of the relationship between organisms in the natural environment and those that colonize us so that we can optimize the design of urban green spaces."

Planning a weekend escape

Inspired to get out of the city? It’s as good an excuse as any to plan a few days’ escape out in the fresh country air, away from the whirlwind of everyday life. To find your perfect destination, check out our list of weekend getaway ideas around Australia – from Goulbourn to Bribie Island, we’ve put sussed out some gorgeous, relaxing spots. For those in Victoria, discover why Bright is the perfect relaxing retreat, or get immersed in nature in the Goldfields, where a new walking and biking track takes you winding through the undulating terrain between Ballarat and Bendigo. Or to really get back to nature, check out our collection of camping ideas to plan the perfect outdoor retreat.

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