October 25th, 2016

Mother Nature knows best: How natural elements in the home make you healthier

When it comes to health and wellness, the design of your home may prove to be just as important as your diet, sleep habits or exercise routine. This is the premise behind biophilic design – the idea that incorporating natural elements into your home, such as wood or plants, can actually improve overall health.

In reviewing existing research from Canada and Austria on the health impact of wood and other natural elements, environmental psychologist Dr. Sally Augustin and researcher Dr. David Fell of FPInnovations found that humans automatically relax when they are surrounded by elements from the natural world. In fact, these materials have a pronounced effect on the autonomic nervous system, lowering blood pressure and stress levels.

“When we experience things in a built environment that are similar to hospitable natural spaces that sheltered humans for thousands of years, we feel relaxed and de-stressed in a profound way,” Augustin says. “We are not as stressed in difficult situations and our lives are improved.”

While most research on biophilic design has focused on schools and healthcare settings, both Augustin and Dr. Fell say the same principles apply to home building and design. “Everyone responds positively to natural materials. These are biological responses, not learned,” Fell says.

Though we all can’t have sweeping views of the ocean or find the forest in our backyard, homeowners can make easy fixes to up the nature quotient in their homes.

1. Let the sun shine in

 According to Augustin and Fell, research links exposure to natural light to positive health outcomes, including weight loss and improved mood. Whenever possible, homeowners should minimize window coverings to let the natural light shine in.

2. Use your green thumb

The addition of green plants to any indoor space is the most literal way of bringing the outside in. Green, leafy plants can brighten up any room and inspire a relaxed and peaceful setting.

3. Make waves

Water – particularly the sound of water – is soothing and relaxing. It’s easy to take advantage of that by incorporating a fountain or other water element into your home.

4. Go with the grain

Whether purchasing a new home or remodeling, nature is easily incorporated into a home through a wood feature wall, ceiling, wainscoting or floors. “We’re talking about wood where we can see the grain. This really has a fundamental effect on the autonomic nervous system,” Augustin says. Unlike other natural elements, wood can also be used for a home’s structure and exposed beams still produce a stress-reducing response.

5. Admire the views

Simply rearranging your furniture to take advantage of the best outdoor views or natural light can help improve your home’s overall atmosphere. If you can, orient furniture so that you have views of the outside and nature, as this should be the focal point of any room.

“Looking at peaceful nature views distracts our minds from thoughts that make us cognitively exhausted,” Augustin says. “The mind has a chance to relax and refresh. When it comes to relieving stress and creating a soothing atmosphere, it turns out that you really can’t beat Mother Nature.”


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