Small changes to our surroundings can have a strong impact on mood and overall health, say experts, and design and construction professionals are recognizing the value in how those changes improve the way people live, work, and play.

Encouraging movement, social interaction, and physical health can address problems like obesity, our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, sense of isolation, mental and emotional health. Thoughtful design and improvements in our work and home environment can be a big part of the solution of these issues.

Spaces that promote movement—walkable and livable communities—are gaining steam; increasingly, architects and developers are creating pedestrian-friendly communities with access to recreational activities.

To foster healthy, active spaces in your own home and community, consider these few tips:

Extend the home

Adding porches, patios, or balconies improves access to the outside world. This provides great health benefits, ranging from maximizing natural light to extending living spaces. Many people hire an architect to retrofit their homes with these amenities, to allow for more space and fresh air and improve ventilation.

Add strategic seating

Strategic seating is another interesting trend design professionals are employing to encourage movement in and around a home or community.

For example, public seating in the middle of spaces that mix residential, dining, and entertainment establishments ensure people need to get up and walk to those services before enjoying them. In other communities, areas designated for quiet activities like reading are on the rise. Benches in playgrounds and other public spaces promote interaction and meeting new friends.

Sleep-friendly bedrooms

Ensure your bedroom promotes healthy sleep by making it a tranquil place. If possible, avoid sleeping in a room that is along a busy street. If your room is along a busy street, install soundproof windows and use drapes.

Leave the entertainment center out of your bedroom. It’s hard to get quality sleep alongside the lights, sound and many times disturbing content of the television. If you read on a tablet before going to sleep use the dimmest possible setting and keep the room lighting low.

Breathe quality air

An easy but often overlooked solution for ensuring better health is keeping air quality high. Fresh air aids sleep and lessens the occurrence of diseases like asthma. Simple ways to improve air quality include:

  • Finding the optimum setup to promote fresh air flow and ventilation in a building. This may mean changing the fan setting from automatic to on or adjusting grills to move the pattern of the air flow.
  • Regularly replacing and cleaning filters on air conditioners and heating systems.
  • Confirming radon and carbon monoxide detectors are present and in working order.

These are just a few examples of how design can affect health. When it comes to home and work upgrades and interior decorating decisions, make your health a top consideration alongside visual appeal and functionality.

About the author: Cyril Stewart, AIA, is an architect and former member of AIA's Board of Directors and the Design and Health Leadership Group.

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