Are we at the beginning of a new movement to create a healthier world?

A glimpse into the history of exercise and health may well give us a picture of the future of indoor environments and health.

In early civilization, fitness wasn’t about health, it was about survival – hunting for food and protection from harm. Fast forward to about 500 BC and an early philosopher suggested daily exercise for the benefit of health and harmony with the universe. That Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed that people could take care of their bodies through exercise diet and meditation.  And Confucius pointed out the value of exercise to prevent certain diseases. But it wasn’t until the industrial revolution and lifestyles and jobs became more sedentary, that proof emerged: physical inactivity was associated with increased prevalence of illness.

Today society has embraced exercise as a fundamental part of everyday life.  Healthcare providers encourage exercise to improve health and prevent and manage illness. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General began a global initiative in 2007 now known as “exercise is medicine.” Take a look at today’s cities and notice the number of fitness centers and people engaging in sports and other forms of physical activity. You can see evidence of exercise just about everywhere. Why?  Because it is good for us.

A similar path can be traced for the relationship between indoor environments and health.  Early dwellings such as caves were about survival and safety, just as fitness was originally about survival and safety. And consider Maslow’s 1943 hierarchy of needs, based on human motivations. It identified shelter as a basic biological requirement for security.  History also indicates early recognition that polluted air spread disease, as far back as the medieval era.  Much later, Florence Nightingale, who was a Crimean War nurse and a building engineer, advocated for proper ventilation in hospitals and fresh air as necessary for healing. In more recent times, indoor air pollutants such as tobacco smoke, asbestos, radon, lead paint and formaldehyde from building materials began to be measured. Air quality has been a significant basis for understanding health in indoor environments, considering elements such as temperature, ventilation, odor, mold and humidity. But indoor health also encompasses much more.

Now could be the time when the bigger picture impact of indoor environments on human health and well-being becomes as prominent as our recognition that exercise contributes to good health. What might that look like for us?

  • Will employers invest differently in their facilities, just as they have invested in offering fitness programs in their employee benefits? Might that have even greater benefit for more people?
  • Will consumers expect facilities that help them live healthier? What transformations will be made in the building industry?
  • Will “homes are medicine” become a new mantra?

As the Well Living Lab continues its mission to understand the relationships between indoor environments and human health and well-being, we’re embarking on another way to create a healthier world that will recast the places where we work, live and play.

This movement can be supported through Well Living Lab Alliance membership. Organizations are joining to show their commitment and become early adapters. Learn more here.