Many of us are well-versed on the effects of diet and exercise on wellbeing, but our physical environment is less often discussed.
However, the Marmot Review (2010) found that there was a distinct correlation between living standards and health; it revealed that (excluding those with long-term disabilities), the life expectancy for the poorest communities was seventeen years lower than that of the richest.
The poorest communities also experienced the highest rates of childhood obesity and smoking, while engaging in less physical activity, and struggling to meet the five-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendations.
In this article, we will look at some environmental factors which contribute to poor wellbeing, and examine the simple changes we can make to overcome these.
Housing is one of the most important factors for good health and wellbeing. However, according to The Health Foundation (2017), as many as 1 in 5 homes in the UK do not meet the required basic living standards.
Problems can develop from factors such as the materials used to construct the building, along with other influences.
For example, mould can build up in a home due to damp and poor ventilation. This may lead to children developing long term conditions such as asthma and allergies, while 1 in 10 lung cancers are caused by having high radon levels in the home.
Housing can also have a significant impact on mental health; in 2015, as many as 32% of homeless people reported a mental health problem, and people without a fixed address were ten times more likely to experience a depressive episode than the general population.
Among people who have a fixed address, those who live in social housing (as opposed to private accommodation) were one and a half times more likely to suffer a mental health problem, and four times more likely to state that their housing affected their health.
And the impact of housing issues in general population is prevalent; according to a study by ComRes, as many as 1 in 5 English adults said that housing had impacted on their health in the last 5 years.
Air pollution is a major risk factor for a number of conditions including asthma, lung cancer, ventricular hypertrophy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, autism, retinopathy, and low birth weight.
Air quality tends to be poorer around more densely populated areas. As with water quality, this may mean that some groups are adversely affected by living in crowded conditions.
This can be combatted by introducing more parks and ‘green spaces’ to town centres; but the Air Quality Expert Group has said that:
‘Overall, vegetation and trees are regarded as beneficial for air quality, but they are not a solution to the air quality problems at a city scale.’
As such, as a society we should keep campaigning for greener spaces in our cities, but also consider other means of reducing air pollution, such as more public transport, less use of fossil fuels, and encouraging cycling or walking to work etc., instead of using personal vehicles.
How To Create A Healthy Home Environment
While we don’t always necessarily have a choice in where we live due to social or economic circumstances, there are certain ways we can reduce the impact on our health.
- Test your water – If you are concerned about the quality of water in your area, you can check it with a home water quality testing kit.
- Invest in a (good quality) water filter – There are a number of water filters available, but most general water filters will only remove a few contaminants. Clearandwell found that Brita and Pur filters ranked poorly in water purification and product quality. They did however, recommend a few alternative options, such as the top-rated Berkey, or reverse-osmosis systems which are known to remove 99% of contaminants in water, among others.
- Get gardening! A study by NASA in 1989 found that a number of houseplants have the capacity to purify air in the home, reducing the impact of chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichlorothyrene. These plants include Spider Plants, Snake Plants, Peace Lilies, Devil’s Ivy, and Flamingo Flower, among others.
- Air purifiers – Most air purifiers remove particles such as dust from the atmosphere, making them useful if you have asthma or allergies. However, many do not remove harmful gases such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or Radon. If you are concerned about either of these gases, an alternative to neutralise them would be a carbon air filter. However, they are quite expensive, so check your radon levels before investing in one.
- Air dehumidifiers – If you have a problem with mould in your home, you may also choose to try an air dehumidifier. These can be useful if you have asthma and/or allergies to certain mould spores. You can also buy all-in-one purifiers and dehumidifiers.
- Chemical cleaning sprays may have adverse effects. There is evidence that they can trigger and even cause respiratory problems, irritate the eyes or throat, cause headaches, and even cancers. You may wish to swap your usual cleaning products for eco-friendly alternatives, or to make your own.
- Self-building – If it’s an option, then building your home as opposed to buying it can save you money and allow you to create something perfectly suited to your needs.
Our environment is a central part of our wellbeing, so it is crucial to make our homes the healthiest places that they can be. But it’s about more than just us.
For our own health, and the health of our families, we need to keep our homes safe, but to also stay involved with social and environmental issues to ensure good living standards are upheld throughout all our communities.
This article was written by Holly Jackson of Daily Sun