Harvard researchers outline steps to a healthy home

By | July 2, 2019

Some of them we’ve likely heard before, some of them may be new, but all of them are meant to help us live longer, healthier lives in the places we spend 65 percent of our time: our homes.

In a recent report, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have compiled 36 expert tips that help make your home a healthier place to live. And happily, most of them are quick fixes that can have a major impact on well-being.

“Home is where the heart is. It’s a figurative expression but it’s literal too because it’s actually where your heart is spending a majority of its time,” said one of the report’s lead authors, Joe Allen, who heads the School’s Healthy Buildings program. “The home influences heart health, brain health, hormone health, mental health, all these factors. We know what a healthy meal looks like. We know that exercise is good for you and that pollution is bad for you. But we know a lot less about the places where we spend all of our time.”

Through their work, Allen and his colleagues have been shining light on what a range of scientific research says about the home environment in the developed world. Much of it is cause for concern, such as the facts that vacuum cleaners without proper filters simply break dirt up into smaller particles and scatter them around the room; the average adult uses nine personal-care products each day, exposing him or her to 126 different ingredients; and cooking with poor ventilation can make kitchen air resemble that of a smog-filled city.

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“When we cook most of us aren’t thinking that we are fundamentally changing the air quality inside our home, but making a meal can generate a lot of particles,” said Allen. (The Environmental Protection Agency defines particulate matter as matter containing microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems.) “In your kitchen you can generate levels that look like a bad outdoor-air-pollution day in Beijing or Los Angeles, and depending on your type of ventilation, or if you don’t have an exhaust over your stove, those levels can get high and stay high.

“The science says you have to have an exhaust hood and it has to be exhausted to the outside,” he added, “otherwise, you are just collecting it and redistributing it somewhere else but not out of the house.”

The “Homes for Health” report offers tips for specific rooms, tips that apply to the entire home, and tips for outdoor areas such as yards and swimming pools. According to the research, one of the top ways people can make their homes healthier is by merely kicking off their shoes before they step inside. The move limits the amount of dirt and dust picked up from sidewalks, streets, and other places that harbor an alarming array of bacteria, germs, and chemicals that people bring indoors.

Health & Medicine – Harvard Gazette