Robbins: Wellness starts at home

An ergonomially designed set up for dual work stations. Courtesy, Stephan Karg jpg

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When Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam wrote her first report, Designing Healthy Living, on the state of public health in Canada in 2017, she wrote of the ‘tremendous potential that changing our built environment has for helping Canadians lead healthier lives.’

Leading a healthier life is shaped by many factors, yet there is a link between one’s built environment — where we work, live, study and play — and a person’s healthy behaviour.

Chronic lifestyle diseases continue to rise in Canada and research suggests that approximately 30 per cent of cancers can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Studies have also shown that well-designed environments can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and decrease pain.

With the pandemic having no foreseeable end date, setting up our homes to be as conducive as possible for health and wellbeing is more important than ever, especially as we prepare to hunker down for the winter. 

Annabelle Mastalic is owner of ADM Interiors, which focuses on assessing homes to make them safe and comfortable. Courtesy, Sandra Miller, Shutterbean Photography jpg

Enter Annabelle Mastalic, owner of ADM Interiors and the only designer in Alberta with the Certified Living in Place designation, a training focused on assessing homes to make them safe and comfortable for its occupants. Formerly a nurse of 17 years, Mastalic has melded her medical background with design, concentrating on how health promotion and illness prevention can be woven into residential spaces. 

“I approach design through a lens of health and science. Before COVID, the demand was for making homes beautiful. Now there’s a greater need for homes to be more functional. It’s about creating ease, so you can live healthier, while still making homes inspiring to live in,” she says.

With COVID, the need for multi-purpose, functional spaces has never been greater. Many families are in need of an exercise area, quiet spaces to work and places to relax away from work (and possibly other family members). This requires reconfiguring and possibly redesigning certain rooms.

Take the hub of the home, for instance. Kitchens are no longer used solely for cooking and eating. Part homeschool, part temporary office, it can be challenging to utilize one space for so much, before shifting it back to its natural functionality — without lingering work stress.

Mastalic recommends transforming your kitchen area with multi-purpose furniture, such as storage carts on wheels to house computers and school materials. When work is finished, the cart gets wheeled away.

 

A youth bedroom design that is both comfortable and efficient. Courtesy, Nick Glimenakis for Homepolish jpg

While appointments are typically done in-house to identify your health needs and design preferences, they can be done virtually. Afterwards, you’ll be sent a wellness design assessment with recommendations and referrals, putting home dwellers in touch with an ergonomic specialist or occupational therapist if needed.

Another option for making your home more efficient may be found through feng shui, an ancient Chinese practice. Feng shui is a method of optimizing residences to bring forth happiness, abundance and balance through the placement of objects in relation to the flow of qi (life energy).

“It’s like design on intention steroids,” explains Mia Staysko, a feng shui practitioner, interior designer and instructor at Mount Royal University.

“We spend so much time in our homes, they should be as energetically nourishing and geared to your intentions as much as possible. Feng shui is a complimentary way of getting your physical world inline with your intentions,” she maintains.

Like an interior design consultation, feng shui practitioners will want to walk through your house and will ideally look over a floor plan in order to suss out how they can help improve safety, flow and harmony.

But you don’t need an expert to tell you now is an excellent time to declutter. Clutter takes up valuable space — both mentally and physically. If you want to shift the energy in your home, Staysko recommends rearranging or removing 27 items within a short period of time (not over weeks). 

“Do it with intention and pay attention to whether anything happens afterwards,” she suggests.

Even if you can’t afford to bring in a professional, there are still ways we can integrate wellness into our home spaces. If working from home, try setting up workspaces near a window. Exposure to sunlight can increase serotonin levels, keeping you focused and alert. And ensure your bedroom is set up to promote rest, with minimal light and noise.

Keeping germs out of the house is top of mind, and more easily created with a drop zone at your most-used entryway. Mastalic recommends families carve out a contained space to drop backpacks and wipe down lunch containers. You could even add a laundry basket for masks, gloves and other clothing.

While that may not look aesthetically pleasuring, there comes a time when health benefits outweigh the desire to beautify a room. Likewise, if you don’t have space to put exercise gear anywhere but in the living room, don’t stress about how it looks. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. Though, there are likely things you can do to make the space more pleasing, such as putting hand weights in decorative baskets or covering a drop zone basket with pretty fabric.

Whenever you’re embarking on healthier changes, whether it’s a new fitness routine or cutting back on alcohol, creating a supportive environment only helps.

“You want to have a home that’s work for you in supporting a healthy lifestyle — one that’s easy to live in, functional and works for your needs now and in the future,” stresses Mastalic.

If homes can be designed and reconfigured to set people up for success, making healthy choices the easier choices, isn’t that worth trying?

Jody Robbins is a Calgary-based lifestyle writer. Follow her wellness adventures on her blog: Travels with Baggage and on Instagram at @TravelswBaggage

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