The Science of Setting Up a Healthier Home

A few tweaks to our homebound lifestyle can help us optimize our health

Emily Anthes
Elemental
Published in
6 min readAug 17, 2020

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Photo: Blair_witch/Getty Images

Over the last few months, I’ve developed a new morning routine. After I brush my teeth but before I don my dog-walking shoes, I wander over to the windowsill to check on my microgreens. In the early days of the pandemic, I’d scoffed at the idea of quarantine hobbies, mostly because I didn’t have any. And then I stumbled upon an online seed catalog and began imagining a never-ending bounty of beet greens and lemon basil and ruby red chard.

Quick to germinate and easy to grow, microgreens are the perfect project for an inexperienced gardener confined to a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment (that is: me). And I’ve been enjoying dining on my tiny harvests of peppery arugula and sweet pea shoots. But the biggest benefits, it turns out, have been less gustatory than psychological — there’s been something profoundly soothing, even hopeful, about beginning each day by tracking the growth of these small green shoots.

Over the last five years, I have spent countless hours poring over scientific literature, looking for clues about how we can create healthy indoor spaces. That research, which culminated in my book The Great Indoors, was sparked by the fact that I am decidedly indoorsy. So I was somewhat chagrined to learn that one of the best ways to foster a restorative indoor environment is to bring in elements of the outdoor one. And in an era of stay-at-home orders and 14-day quarantines, staying healthy and happy may require us to invite more nature, daylight, and fresh air into our homes.

It’s not a novel idea. In the mid-19th century, for instance, renowned nurse Florence Nightingale called for a major overhaul of hospitals, many of which were filthy, fetid death traps. Nightingale began campaigning for a new kind of hospital, one in which patients had ample access to sunlight, nature, and — especially — fresh air. “Natural ventilation, or that by open windows and open fire-places, is the only efficient…

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Emily Anthes
Elemental

Emily is an award-winning science journalist and author of The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness.