Our overall wellbeing is a complex thing, influenced and determined by a number of factors including our diet, lifestyle, and habits. Interestingly enough, one element that is sometimes overlooked is the environments we spend time in, and how these impact on our health. Considering that the average person spends around 45% of their time at home, the design of our living space is a crucial element in our health and wellbeing.
Our wellbeing isn’t a single entity; it involves both our physical and psychological health, both of which are influenced by countless individual factors. Because of this, understanding how to design your home around your health can seem overwhelming – making it important to understand exactly how these two things are connected.
Wellbeing as part of daily living
Recent years have seen an increasing awareness of what’s involved in our wellbeing, and our appreciation for its importance. The rise in popularity of everything from healthy eating to exercise regimes has been exponential; conventional understanding has deepened, and advice on everything from which exercise plan will most suit you to the best foods to eat for repairing nerve damage is readily available.
Wellbeing is now very much ingrained in the public psyche as a part of daily living. But
crucially, a lot of the focus around wellbeing thus far has been on looking after our minds and bodies, rather than our environments.
Our physical and psychological wellbeing is intrinsically related to what we put into our bodies and what we do with them, as well as how we feel about ourselves and the world. Yet while this is hugely important, it doesn’t paint the whole picture.
What about the other side of the coin? A truly comprehensive understanding of health takes into account not only the things we can do to and for ourselves, but also the physical spaces in which we spend time. And these environments – particularly our homes – can play a big part in helping or hindering a healthy lifestyle.
How our environment impacts our health
So how do our home environments actually impact our health? As with many elements of wellbeing, it’s useful to break these concepts down into the physical and psychological, both of which are equally significant – and both of which can be dramatically affected by our living space.
Environments and physical wellbeing
When it comes to our physical health, our home design can make a big difference.
Air quality has a big part to play in this. The recent alerts in cities such as London over staggering levels of air pollution serve as a stark reminder that in our modern world – particularly for those living in cities – pollution is a very real problem. It’s easy to feel that once we’ve stepped across the threshold, we’re free from all the toxins in the surrounding air, but a surprising number of these are present in our homes too.
Light levels are another thing we don’t always think about, but probably should. Natural light is crucial to our body’s ability to regulate and produce Vitamin D, which is vital for healthy development, and our circadian rhythms – the strange and wonderful ‘body clocks’ that govern our biological rhythms, including sleep and digestion – rely on daylight to self-regulate. If an interior space is dark, or lacking in adequate daylight, our overall health can dip.
There are other things we may not think about too. Take temperature: while seemingly insignificant in the short term, rooms that are too hot or cold can have a lasting, long term impact on our physical wellbeing.
The home and psychological wellbeing
As previously noted, our health doesn’t just relate to our physical selves. In recent decades, our knowledge of mental health has improved, as has our appreciation for its significance in our overall wellbeing. While this is a hugely positive development, our indoor environments don’t always work towards galvanising our state of mind.
Small, cramped, and dark places can negatively impact how we feel in a pretty big way. Waking up every day in a dingy space can have a lasting and profound effect on our psychological health – especially if we’re then travelling to an equally oppressive office cubicle.
Similarly, issues like noise pollution can cause problems with our mental health. Regular exposure to distracting or frustrating sounds can lower our mood — and can cause more serious problems when experienced for a prolonged period of time.
How this relates to home design
With a significant if not comprehensive understanding of the factors that affect our wellbeing, the key takeaway is how we relate this to the home space.
Of all the indoor spaces in which we spend time, we spend more time than anywhere else in our homes. Making the connection between the aforementioned environmental factors and our living spaces, then, is extremely important.
When it comes to things like air quality, people living in cities are faced with the most obvious challenge. That doesn’t mean everyone else is off the hook, however, as there are a number of things in the average home that can exacerbate the problem too.
The paraphernalia of modern life, such as gas cookers, tumble dryers, and products like hairspray – and even slightly more concerning things including materials such as asbestos – can all play havoc with air quality. When you stop and acknowledge how many things emit some kinds of particles into the atmosphere, it’s concerning just how big an impact these materials and objects can have on our health.
Light quality is fairly self-explanatory, and fundamentally comes down to how much natural light is flooding into the home. If a property is designed with inadequate window coverage, then occupants simply won’t be able to get enough natural light, at least without going outside. If this is combined with harsh artificial lighting, the impact on health can be worsened.
In terms of psychological wellbeing, our proximity to noisy or distressing environments – as well as a claustrophobic aesthetic – can all cause issues. These issues are more subjective and related to aesthetics, but are equally important to think about.
How can you make sure your home design benefits your health?
Even with an in-depth understanding of environmental factors, the real question is how you can use this knowledge to make informed and impactful choices when it comes to home design. This is useful if you’re in the process of choosing a new home, or are planning to make significant changes to your own property – but it’s also just as valuable when making more subtle interior design choices.
Structural home design changes to improve wellbeing
- Let the light in
Arguably one of the best structural changes you can make is to include glass installations, ensuring that enough natural light makes its way into your interior spaces. Simple windows, glass walls, and even more elaborate choices like extensions and rooflights are all excellent ways to let the light in. An addition like this can have a positive impact on many elements of wellbeing, from mood to energy levels.
- Let your property breathe
When it comes to air quality, the most important consideration is arguably ventilation. Comprehensive home ventilation systems, while not an option for everyone, are an effective way to ensuring the air in your home is regularly filtered and circulated. Otherwise, even simple steps like ensuring windows can open widely can make a significant difference.
When it comes to the structure of a property, carefully consider your choice of materials. Any new constructions (such as extensions) should avoid using materials that could result in mould, dust or other particles making their way into the air.
- Think about heating
While possibly not an obvious health and wellbeing consideration, adequate heating is also important. Making sure that your home is well heated, and that a normal interior climate is maintained, can all go a long way to improving your health.
Boilers and heating systems like radiators should all be factored in and regularly maintained, and the installation of central heating with a thermostat control is always an effective solution.
- Consider water quality
Other considerations include things like water quality. Old and poorly looked-after pipes and filters can reduce the quality of water in the home, so organising checks to the structural water systems in your home can be beneficial. If you live in an area in which is supplied with hard water, installing a water softener could also lead to a better quality of life (and tastier cups of tea).
Interior home design changes to improve wellbeing
While in an ideal world, we’d all have the resources and finances to ensure our homes galvanised our wellbeing with structural solutions, this isn’t always an option. Fortunately, even making a few small and simple changes to your interior design can lead to improvements in your physical and psychological health.
Regularly opening windows wide and ensuring they aren’t blocked by furnishings is a great way to vent out your home. Not only can this improve air quality, it also helps to prevent mould, which can play havoc with our respiratory systems. Research has also indicated that certain plants can improve and filter the air in our homes. Adding a few of these plants can look great — and keep the air in your home clean, too.
On a psychological level, the aesthetic of your home design contributes in a big way to your overall state of mind. While some people don’t mind clutter, opting for a clear, open arrangement of furniture can reduce the sense of claustrophobia. Similarly, interior design trends like minimalism are based around the concept that the way our homes look are tied into how we feel. As a result, choosing to follow one of these concepts could directly improve your mental health.
The key take-away from this is to think about what does and doesn’t relate to your situation. Older people, or those who have difficulty with mobility, could opt to arrange furniture and installations so that they don’t have to strain to reach things on a regular basis. A young, creative person might thrive in a cluttered, messy space, and could decorate their home with bright colours, in a way that makes them feel positive.
Ultimately, what’s important is to consider that the spaces we spend time in have a tangible impact on the way we feel. Some of these ways are obvious, and some are more subtle. But when it comes to both our physical and mental health and wellbeing, our homes are hugely important.
Ultimately, home is where the health is. Taking the time to think about how your living space could work with your goals to a healthy lifestyle could lead to all sorts of benefits.
This article was contributed by Cantifix, a leading supplier of structural glazing solutions in the UK. They work with architects and homeowners alike to construct the best living spaces possible, and have even created the world’s first all-glass living space to study the effects of natural light on our wellbeing.