May 26, 2023
10 Healthy Home Design Tips From The World's Longest
Many simple decisions you make about the design of your house and the pathway of your everyday life affect your health and longevity. If you live in a home that is full of nudges that keep you moving,
Many simple decisions you make about the design of your house and the pathway of your everyday life affect your health and longevity. If you live in a home that is full of nudges that keep you moving, you're not only burning more calories with physical activity; you're also keeping your metabolism working at a higher rate. This natural movement creates a heart-healthy, fat-burning blood chemistry that keeps you sharper and feeling more energetic.
From the kitchen to your bedroom, into the yard, and out into your community, here are some changes you can make right now to create your own blue zone:
Put it in a common room, preferably in a cabinet behind doors. The goal here is to nudge you away from screen time that encourages overeating and detracts from potential physical activity. People who watch too much TV are more likely to be overweight1. Watching TV actually lowers metabolism2, makes us less active and engaged, and encourages us to eat junk food via commercials. Kids with a TV in their bedrooms3 are 18% more likely to be (or become) obese and have lower grades. The happiest people watch only 30 to 60 minutes of TV per day.
Shoveling, raking, and pushing a mower are healthy and productive outdoor workouts—some burn almost 400 calories an hour. In fact, mowing the lawn or raking leaves burns about the same number of calories as lifting weights. If you are able, mow your lawn with a push lawn mower, shovel the snow with a hand shovel, and gather the leaves from your lawn with an old-fashioned rake instead of a leaf blower.
In all blue zones, people continue to garden even into their 90s and 100s. Gardening is the epitome of a blue zone activity because it's sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds and you're going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water the plants, weed them, harvest them. Gardening also provides low-intensity range-of-motion exercise, vitamin D from the sun, and fresh vegetables and herbs.
Watering plants burns about the same number of calories as stretching and walking. Studies show that working with plants can also reduce psychological and physiological stress4.
We recommend that you plant a garden in your yard, start a container garden on your patio, cultivate an indoor herb garden on your windowsill, or add indoor plants to your home. For indoor plants that are easy to maintain, try a golden pothos vine or a spider plant. Besides their ability to clean the air, indoor plants have been proved to provide health benefits to people who interact with them. And because plants are permanent, you'll be nudged to nurture them daily.
If you and your family are prepared to care for a dog, consider adopting one. Pets make great companions and encourage you to walk or run. Researchers found that if you own a dog, you naturally get over five hours of exercise a week5. In fact, studies have shown that dog owners have lower rates of health problems6 compared with those who don't own a dog. (Although you don't walk them, there are some research-backed health benefits to owning a cat7 and other types of pets as well.)
Buy a bike or fix your current bike so you can use it. Just having a bike nudges you to use it. Riding at a moderate speed burns approximately 235 calories per half-hour. Be sure to buy a good helmet. Wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury in crashes by as much as 85% and the risk for brain injury by as much as 88%.
Exercising is more convenient when you have a space in your home designated for that purpose. You are more likely to use the equipment if it's easily accessible and visible. A study at the University of Florida found that women who exercised at home lost 25 pounds in 15 months and maintained that loss. Designate a portion or a corner of a room in your home for your exercise equipment, stability ball, yoga mat, and/or weight set.
Instead of sitting on chairs and furniture all the time, create an area where you can sit on cushions on the floor for reading, talking on the phone, relaxing, enjoying hobbies, or doing family activities.
Okinawan elders sit and get up from the floor dozens of times per day. This exercises their legs, back, and core in a routine way. Sitting on the floor also improves posture and increases overall strength, flexibility, and mobility. Supporting yourself without a chair back improves posture and may help you burn up to an additional 130 calories each hour.
A "pride shrine" is a place with family photos, mementos, and objects that display your accomplishments. Put it in a high-traffic area in your home, maybe between your bedroom and your bathroom, and every time you walk by, you'll be rewarded with a surge of pride and a reminder of how you fit into the world. It can be pictures of your kids when they were young, a remembrance of a parent or a grandparent, pictures of your vacation spot, diplomas, and articles that you've liked.
Include a large table for family projects, shelves filled with books, and plenty of light. Keep out the clock, TV, computer, or other distracting gadgets.
Instead, get out of the car and open the door manually.
Adapted from an excerpt of The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth by Dan Buettner, with permission from the publisher.
Dan Buettner is a National Geographic Fellow and multiple New York Times bestselling author. He has discovered the five places in the world—dubbed “Blue Zones”—where people live the longest, and are healthiest. His New York Times Sunday Magazine article about these places, “The Island Where People Forget to Die,” was one of the Times’ most popular and his National Geographic cover story “The Secrets of Living Longer” was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. His TED Talk "How to live to be 100 " has been viewed over 4.5 million times.
He is the author of The Blue Zones series of books: The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People and The Blue Zones of Happiness, The Blue Zones Kitchen, The Blue Zones Challenge & The Blue Zones American Kitchen. Buettner also holds three Guinness Book of world records in distance cycling.Adapted from an excerpt of The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons From the Healthiest Places on Earth by Dan Buettner, with permission from the publisher.