Can the WELLNESS of our BUILDINGS determine our healthiest lives?
I believe it can. In fact, I believe that ideally our homes and workplaces should not just cause no harm to our health, but they should also support and enhance our health, well-being, productivity and enjoyment of life. In the case of our homes they should also be sanctuaries where we can rest. BUILDING WELLNESS can actually be the answer in creating our healthiest lives. I also believe that the way we build, furnish and live in our homes and work places should support the environment.
I’m a qualified Nutritionist, Building Biologist and Feng Shui practitioner. I’m passionate about helping people improve their health and create positive change in their lives, although I haven’t always had this kind of focus on my own health. I have always had issues around allergies and sensitivities which at times were quite debilitating. I spent many years working in the crazy world of advertising
and this lifestyle of long work hours and stress didn’t help with my allergies. For a long time I never seemed to have the time to get to the core of my health issues, but there came a time when I did realise I was burnt out from years of stress, and spending my days (and often nights) in unhealthy buildings that effected my allergies and overall health. My story is by no means unique in relation to how I’ve evolved throughout my life, but I did gradually start to understand the impact of the lifestyle and stress on my health. Although I was able to improve my allergy symptoms, the burn out got worse and on top of this the final straw was finding myself working at an organisation where there was also a toxic work culture that didn’t reflect my values at all. I was already studying Nutrition part time by this time, but I hadn’t been able to find a way to leave my job. I remember coming home from work after a particularly challenging day and staying up most of the night to work out how I could leave to focus on my study, and by the morning I had a plan for a new start, and what was to be a life changing journey.
During the years of transforming my life from complicated, unhealthy and stressed; to one of health and balance, I decided I wanted to help others uncover a healthier and simpler way to live. I did leave my job to study nutrition full time, and I haven’t looked back. I’m now also a qualified Building Biologist and Nutritionist, practicing in Launceston and across Tasmania.
Changing my nutrition many years ago helped enormously with my own health, and led to my interest in how eating the right foods for our individual needs can improve our wellbeing. While studying to become a Nutritionist and doing my clinic hours, I noticed that indoor environments could also have a profound effect on health and happiness. For example I've observed that people experiencing chronic fatigue symptoms at home but not when they’re away from their home can be attributed to or exacerbated by many different things environmentally including Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF’s), Chemicals and Mould. These people often suffer long term due to not being able to uncover everything in their diet, lifestyle and environments that are triggering symptoms. Given this understanding around indoor environmental health and the fact that most of our lives happen indoors, made me question whether optimum health could be found in making changes to our homes and workplaces. I now know it can be, and I later studies Building Biology.
A Building Biologist is concerned with indoor environmental health, and investigate health hazards in the built environment.
Developing Building Wellness
As a nutritional and environmental health practitioner I’ve now heard too many people say that their symptoms improve or disappear when they’re away from their home or workplace for there not to be something in the impact a building can have on our health. Given on average we spend 90% of our time indoors (The National Human Activity Pattern Survey), what happens inside buildings and how it impacts our health is critical. It’s not just about the physical environment, but also our behaviours in homes and workplaces including what we eat, how food is prepared and stored, products and furnishings we choose to bring into the building, and ease of access to green spaces and natural environments.
Modern built environments in particular are having an increasingly negative impact on our health including sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, stress, social isolation, environmental toxins, lack of connection to nature amongst other problems. As home, work and play become more blurred, and Building Biology gains more awareness, homes and workplaces may be seen as an investment in our health, not just a financial investment.
I’ve developed a unique framework for working with people by combining the two areas of Building Biology and Nutrition to create holistically healthy homes and workplaces in the simplest ways possible, I call it Building Wellness. This holistic approach to health can have a powerful impact, even with just a few simple changes. Going into peoples homes and workplaces allows me to have a close look at signs of indoor hazards.. As a qualified nutritionist I understand human physiology and biochemistry, and I’m able to connect a persons health history and genetics with potential health hazards in a building. I observe how people behave in these environments and use specialised equipment to measure things like air quality. There are three pillars that cover all elements of Building Wellness in creating whole life health:
- Eliminate or Reduce Environmental Toxins such as chemicals off gassing from building materials and furnishings, dust particles that can carry toxins, exposure to electromagnetic fields, chemicals from products brought into the building such as cleaning and personal care products, and mould. There are two aspects to this. Firstly eliminate these toxins as much as possible and secondly to filter, shield and use other methods to reduce your exposures. These indoor environmental problems can cause symptoms such as exacerbation of allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues, multiple chemical sensitivities, skin irritations, fatigue, insomnia, problems with concentration and memory, and can cause or contribute to chronic and serious diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
- Healthy Design, layout and energy includes the building aspect, ventilation, light, colours and the use of specific building materials, as well as the layout and how well the building energy flows. Comfort factors such as noise, temperature and ergonomics are also considered. For example light (and dark) has the ability to impact every aspect of our health because our bodies are incredibly sensitive to it. This includes our hormonal systems, mood and performance, sleep, metabolism and weight, immune function, mental health and cardiovascular health and much more. Natural light during the day and the ability to control artificial lighting is critical.
- Access to green space in and outside the building through healthy use of indoor plants, outdoor balcony space, a yard or easy access to parks. Research also shows that being able to see greenspaces from inside the building can also be beneficial.
2.Eat (& drink) Well
- Regular access to fresh and nutritious foods and drinks from local markets, local grocers or growing your own.
- Healthy food preparation and storage such utensils, preparation surfaces and food storage that are free of harmful plastics which can be damaging to our hormones and our immune system.
- Clean Drinking Water that is filtered appropriately for the specific source of water. Water source includes where it originates, how it travels to the tap and whether its mains, tank, bore or bottled. Understanding these things can impact what contaminants and chemicals could be in the water and allow us to determine what filter is needed. This can also be used in considering filters for bath and shower water.
3.Live and Be Well
- Rest through quality sleep. This has a big focus on the bedroom in terms of furnishings, bedding, floors, light, EMF’s etc. However, behaviours such as nutrition and movement that can impact sleep are also looked at if people are not getting adequate sleep.
- Renew through movement and being grounded in nature (humans have an innate need to be connected with nature). This can be in a yard, from biophilic design in the building, access to parks, walking to shops, walking in the bush or on the beach. Buildings should be designed to promote movement throughout the day such as staircases, accessibility to outdoor activities and spaces, standing desks and space to stretch and move throughout the day. In workplaces there should be the provision for bike storage and fitness equipment. There’s been much research to support being outside, as well as interacting with nature. This includes grounding (having your skin on the earth) on a daily basis, and the positive effects of “forest bathing” (health impact of our bodies being exposed to high levels of plant chemicals). Peoples exposure to Vitamin D stimulating sunshine (at the right time of day) is at an all time low, impacting many aspects of health. We know all these things act like antioxidants, therefore reducing inflammation and disease. Given on average we spend 90% of our time indoors its critical that buildings support us getting outside. Individuals need to allow time in their day for outdoor activities, and companies should encourage employees to spend time outside.
- Conscious living is about how we endeavour to be the best we can be, taking control and making intentional choices. Consciously deciding what we bring into our home, body and life, and therefore creating a low clutter environment helps us live with less worry and greater clarity. It’s a more environmentally conscious way of living. Being aware of how products are made (materials, ingredients, process, labour etc) is important for our health and the environment. Building design (ceiling heights, views of green spaces and use of light and colours etc) can contribute to lowering stress as does fixing our digital overload. In workplaces a cultural mindset that encourages work leave, lunch times and other breaks and interaction with nature. Also important is location and connecting with supportive, connected communities, and a likeminded wellness culture. Be aware of “well-washing”, particularly with workplace wellness “programmes”. Move from talking about “Green” to “Healthy and Sustainable”, for example green rated buildings tend to be unhealthy for living and working. Lastly know that noting is perfect or permanent - Wabi Sabi.
All Building Biology auditing and testing methods are done in line with international building biology standards (link) and the 25 principals for Building Biology, which you can read about here.
My Qualifications and Industry Registrations:
- Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine, Australasian College of Natural Therapies
- Member of The Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
- Advanced Diploma of Building Biology, Australian College of Environmental Studies
- Member of The Australasian Society of Building Biologists
- Certificate IV in Feng Shui, Australian College of Environmental Studies