The human body is the largest living and moving organ. It can be affected not only by what we eat, but also by our surroundings.
In this week’s blog post we will take a deep dive into how our surroundings impact our health. Settle in as this is a little longer read than our regular posts, but you will leave with a wealth of information to empower you to live a healthier and happier life!
The average person spends 90% of their day indoors whether at work or at home.
According to the WELL Building Standard® our indoor environments have the ability to improve our health and wellness. WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. We will explore each of these areas in a bit more detail below.
Good air ventilation within a space encourages productivity and awareness but also impacts the immune system, nervous system, cardiovascular and respiratory system.
We are subjected to interior environments that have poor air quality, often due to off-gassing from materials within the building from paints, finishes and other coatings (volatile organic compounds or VOCs). These emissions contribute to conditions such as asthma, allergies and other upper respiratory challenges.
Elimination of environmental pollutants in air, such as tobacco and VOCs are part of the strategy to remove airborne contaminants.
Opening windows is a simple solution that can provide a supply of fresh air and lower levels of carbon dioxide and VOCs.
Some tips for better air quality:
• Removal of heavy carpets that may hold dust and dirt (changing to hardwood has the added benefit of easy cleaning and maintenance!)
• Use of carbon filters which are designed to absorb volatile pollutants and remove the largest of particles.
• Limit exposure to molds and microbes by selecting surface materials that are smooth, corrosion-resistant and easily sanitized to maintain cleanliness (this reduces the need for toxic cleaning products and may enable the space to be cleaned less often).
“Clean drinking water is a basic prerequisite for human health, yet many people receive water that has been exposed to potentially harmful levels of biological, chemical and mineral contaminants.” WELL Building Standard®
You can optimize water quality to ensure it is safe and clean for various uses through proper filtration, among other methods discussed below.
Some tips to for better water quality:
• Reverse osmosis systems and activated charcoal filters can remove harmful byproducts from water while maintaining appropriate levels of chlorine, chloramine, and fluoride.
• Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) filters can remove dissolved metals and many contaminants can be removed with carbon filters.
• In commercial buildings, ensure good tasting drinking water is easily accessible throughout by inputting portable water stations to reduce the use of sugary vending machines and increase reuseable containers.
A clean water system encourages more energized employees in a work environment and improves the digestive system, nervous system, immune system and urinary system.
The way we produce, store and prepare foods can have a significant impact on the quality of our meals. Unfortunately, stress, environmental pollutants and many of today’s foods contain chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems.
Healthy eating habits can be adopted by providing people with healthier food choices, behavioral cues in the built environment and knowledge about nutrient quality.
Did you know that eating alone can cause overeating and contribute to stress that is related to the lack of social interaction with others?
Providing building occupants with dedicated spaces for eating and socializing with others is one solution that can lead to better eating habits, strengthen social interactions and help reduce stress.
Food preparation should have distinct areas as equipment can be a source of contaminants that are harmful to human health. Porous surfaces can harbor harmful pathogens while chemical additives, such as non-stick coatings, can pass onto food.
Some tips for better nourishment:
• Including a kitchen or lunch room at work encourages bringing food from home and reduces the urge to buy fast food.
• Hand washing is one of the most important and effective means of reducing the transmission of pathogens.
• Ensure that sinks, soap and paper towel dispensers are readily accessible in public environments.
• Drying hands with towels helps remove bacteria from hands, more so than using an air dryer.
• Use separate cutting boards for raw foods (uncooked meats, fish and poultry).
• Treatment of surfaces helps to prevent microbes and toxins from entering our digestive system via our foods.
“Light is the most important external cue for keeping the body’s internal clock synchronized. The body requires both periods of brightness and darkness at appropriate points throughout the day to maintain optimal circadian rhythm.” WELL Building Standard®
Exposure to natural light can improve mood, alertness and overall health.
Ideal lighting begins with proper exposure to daylight as well as careful design of windows and glazing to avoid excessive glare and heat gain. Brightness levels contribute to the perception of spaciousness, as well as to the visual appeal of illuminated spaces.
Specialized lighting systems can be designed to increase alertness, enhance an experience and promote sleep.
Adequate light levels are needed for a broad variety of activities, including reading and working with detail. Task-appropriate illumination, such as a lamp for your desk, improves energy and productivity.
Did you know that lower levels of light during the day can cause drowsiness, especially in the afternoon?
Bright indoor lights can create uneven levels of brightness resulting in glare that can cause visual fatigue and discomfort.
Some tips to for better lighting:
• The best use of light is natural lighting, with the use of large windows, and skylights.
• Using LED bulbs helps cut costs on energy and allows you to get the most out of your lighting.
• To manage disruptive glare emanating from windows, you can use window shades, blinds and dimmable glass.
• To minimize glare caused by incoming sunlight computer screens can be oriented to face within 20° perpendicular to the plane of the nearest window.
• In work areas, all lighting except decorative fixtures can be programmed into motion sensors to automatically dim to 20% or less (or switch off) when the zone is unoccupied.
More buildings are being designed to provide opportunities for activity, allowing people to accommodate fitness within their daily schedule.
The WELL Building Standard® for Fitness allows for the seamless integration of exercise and fitness into everyday life by providing the physical features and components to support an active and healthy lifestyle.
Fitness is helpful to enhance sleep and reduce stress, among other health benefits.
Buildings are being more consciously constructed to encourage regular movement and physical activity.
Some tips for better fitness:
• Use a standing desk, treadmill desk or bicycle desk.
• Take breaks from work by walking outdoors in nature.
• Promote the use of stairs and walking paths and discourage reliance on elevators.
• Showers and bicycle storage can be provided on-site.
The indoor environment should be a place of comfort. Presently more employers are giving their business a face lift and incorporating areas that consider employee well-being.
The WELL Building Standard® focuses on reducing the most common sources of physiological disruption and on enhancing acoustic, ergonomic and thermal comfort. They believe that environments should enhance social interaction, learning and productivity, while limiting stress and harmful hormone levels in the body.
The aim is to create a distraction-free, productive and comfortable environment that incorporates ergonomics and universal design to limit physical stress.
Part of the equation is ensuring that individuals with physical disabilities have access and mobility. Although accessibility is typically applied to commercial spaces, we believe it should also be incorporated in the home to make it more accessible. Learn how accessibility can improve your home.
Some tips for more comfort include:
• Ensure a variety of comfortable sitting and standing positions are available.
• Create quiet zones for activities that require freedom from distraction.
• To help alleviate eye and neck strain all computer screens should be adjustable in terms of height and distance from the user.
• For sound reduction try wall panels, ceiling baffles and surface enhancements.
• Limit the amount of sound emanating from building systems and try to keep exterior noise out, as much as possible.
Healthy work environments should be adaptable for working, focusing, collaborating, and resting.
A physical space can positively impact your mind and mood and integrating aesthetically pleasing elements can help people derive a sense of comfort and joy from their surroundings.
You can support mental and emotional health through design elements such as relaxation spaces and state-of-the-art technologies. Providing access to therapies that help promote relaxation and address mental or emotional health and instituting policies that improve sleep and encourage community engagement are other means of supporting the mind.
Part of the puzzle is creating an interior environment that nurtures the innate human-nature connection. Biophilia is an emerging field that recognizes our psychological need to be around life and life-like processes. In Biophilic Design elements are reminiscent of the natural environment, including water features and plants, as well as access to outdoor gardens and landscaped areas. Learn more about how to incorporate biophilic design into your space.
Elements that provide visual complexity, balance and proportion can impart a sense of comfort and ease to help reduce stress.
Some tips for an improved mind:
• Incorporate a relaxation space.
• Create a visually appealing space through proper room proportions and integration of artwork.
• Provide an audio device with a selection of nature sounds and volume control.
• Include a water feature or fish tank in the space for audio visual therapy.
• Provide at least 3 different types of seats; cushioned reclining chair, floor chair with back support and at least 3 meditation cushions of varying sizes.
Get additional tips for the home and find out more about the positive affects that calm space can have on you.
A beautiful and meaningful space can have a positive impact on people’s morale and mood.
The features that collectively form the WELL Building Standard® aim to promote and enhance immune health and overall well being. All of these components combine to take a holistic approach to the design of indoor spaces.
We’ve covered a lot of ground today but it you’re interested in learning more, here’s a quick read on Making Room for Holistic Design in your home.