A prescription for healthier homes

Like almost everyone this winter, I was recently laid low by a respiratory illness and spent more time than usual in my house, cycling achily and groggily from my bedroom to my den, with occasional stops in the kitchen for more electrolyte-laden beverages, soup and frozen fruit bars.

At the same time, a friend was returning home after a long hospital stay. Although neither of us relished being sick, we agreed that being home felt far more healing than being in the hospital — or anywhere else.

We think of our homes as centers of family life, restful retreats from the world, places for socializing. But they, too, are places for health and wellness, just as much as any medical center, yoga retreat or spa.

As people continue to strive to stay healthy and active well into their senior years and the population ages, I think the importance of the home as a contributor to well-being will only grow.

And there are so many ways the home can help to improve our health, both physical and mental. Here are just a few that go beyond home gyms:

* Bedrooms: The Better Sleep Council and other sleep experts recommend people get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. That starts with a comfortable, supportive, quality mattress, but also includes creating a dark room, whether through blackout curtains, remote-controlled or smart shades, or smart lighting that dims on a schedule or with voice commands. Many adjustable bed bases have under bed lighting to make it safe for people to move around at night without turning on bright lights. People also need quiet for sleep. Sound machines can provide soothing white noise (plus pink, blue, brown and other noise hues). Many smart beds and adjustable bases come with their own sound machines or offer Bluetooth connectivity and USB outlets so you can listen to apps like Calm and Balance as you drift to sleep. Adjustable bases themselves promote better rest, offering massage features, allowing sleepers to elevate their legs and heads for comfort, and incorporating anti-snoring features to make sure both bed partners sleep well. High-end smart beds monitor heart rates, sleep habits and other factors, providing reports and tips to help people improve their sleep and overall health.

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* Bathrooms: This is a place where safety is a priority. Items like grab bars, higher-profile toilets and nonslip flooring throughout the space can keep everyone, regardless of age or mobility, safe and secure. Hygiene matters, too: Think of the jump in homeowners asking for bidets in recent years. But bathrooms are also a space for the pampering side of wellness: Think multifixture showers, soaking tubs, heated floors, aromatherapy machines and towel warmers. A recent Zillow survey shows a jump in the number of homes featuring cold plunge pools, said to help increase circulation, reduce inflammation and speed recovery after exercise.

* Kitchens: Thoughtful features can help promote healthy eating. For instance, deep, low drawers and small secondary refrigerators (or refrigerated drawers) can be stocked with easily accessible healthy snacks for young children. Speaking of refrigerators, new smart models are supposed to do a better job of keeping food fresh for longer. Beverage centers with waters, teas and appliances like juicers can keep everyone well-hydrated. And speaking of hydration, whole-home water filtration systems make tap water a healthy option — and one better for the environment than single-use plastic water bottles. Safety matters here, too. Ovens and cooktops with features like automatic shutoffs and hot surface indicators are requirements for today’s safe kitchens, as are hands-free faucets that help prevent food and other contamination while cooking. Pot fillers near the stove prevent dangerous walks from the sink to the cooktop with pots of water. Nonslip flooring should be a priority; flooring and mats that also help prevent leg and back fatigue are even nicer. Pets like to be with us in the kitchen. A pet center with food, water, toys and a comfy bed helps keep pet mess contained to one area while still allowing pets to spend time with their people.

Throughout the home

They aren’t the sexiest of design elements, but upgrading HVAC systems, adding humidifiers/dehumidifiers and air purifiers go along way in helping to keep germs and environmental pollutants at bay.

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Of course, choosing sustainable, more environmentally friendly materials for remodels helps to cut down on off-gassing and other health hazards.

More fun are biophilia elements like plants and fountains, which can be calming and restorative. That same recent Zillow survey also shows increasing interest in sensory gardens, which delight the eye, the nose and the palate with a mix of herbs, vegetables, fruits and other plants, and the ear with water features.

Some homeowners will be more focused on making their homes wellness centers than others, but interior designers can help demonstrate the benefits of healthy home features and encourage their clients to consider incorporating them into redesigns and new builds.

It’s a perfect prescription for homes that heal, energize and restore.

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