The home is the quintessential artificial creation. Humans have been building them long before recorded history. In fulfilling our need for shelter against harsh conditions, such man-made structures are almost an act of defiance against nature itself.
Yet within the comfort of our homes, we’re still drawn to nature.
We yearn for windows opening out to a great view and install gas fireplaces to recreate some of that primeval warmth within a modern setting. The house itself might not occupy the full extent of a property, as owners want to leave space for a well-maintained lawn or garden.
Including natural elements in your living environment doesn’t just increase its appeal. It offers benefits to well-being that are extensively studied. And it can provide constant encouragement towards a more active lifestyle.
The restorative powers of nature
Spending time in a natural environment makes us feel better. Some of that can be explained simply by the increase in activity required to get there. It jolts us out of the ordinary and reacquaints us with the joys of moving about, as opposed to maintaining a sedentary routine.
However, studies into this phenomenon have demonstrated that people can feel restored simply by viewing photographs of nature, for instance.
Psychologists have proposed a framework for how this effect works, called attention restoration theory. Under this model, there are certain characteristics we seek in an environment to experience restorative effects.
One is being away or detached from your present concerns. It doesn’t have to mean physically distancing yourself from your everyday setting, although that helps. Other attributes include the lack of unusual features, which help put you at ease, and compatibility with your personal preferences.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of a restorative environment, however, is fascination: the ability to engage your attention without requiring effort on your part.
Natural environments tend to check all those boxes. And even without heading to a local park or wilderness area, you can enjoy the benefits of restoration by bringing nature into your home.
A nudge towards physical activity
It’s no secret that natural elements give us a boost. Thus, interior designers encourage us to incorporate more natural light and indoor plants into our homes and offices, for instance. The developers of workplace facilities and urban spaces alike seek ways to add green spaces to help improve the mood of employees and residents.
But this isn’t all about the mental health side of the wellness equation. Designers know that the built environment can exert a significant influence on our behaviors.
This area of interest lies in the overlap between psychology and architecture. It’s part art, part soft science, and almost entirely experimental.
Yet the results showcase its potential to nudge people towards certain behaviors. For example, low ceilings favor our ability to focus on detail, but lofty ceilings encourage abstract thinking, creativity, and seeing the big picture.
Separate research studies also indicate a positive correlation between natural environments and physical activity.
This works by increasing two factors that influence our behavior concerning exercise: attitude and perceived control.
Thus, there’s potential for you to not only improve your mood with natural elements around the home but use them to create an environment that encourages you to exercise.
Green exercise at home
To make this work, you have to apply a designer’s thinking to the challenge.
Improving your attitude towards exercise means making it pleasant. This could mean creating a workout space that’s filled with natural elements instead of mechanical fitness contraptions or at least manages to combine both.
The other factor you can work on is control, which is your perception of having the skills, resources, and other conditions necessary to behave in the desired manner. Think in terms of ease of use or making the place more conducive to activity. It could be as simple as picking a wood flooring with a texture you find pleasant to exercise on.
Natural light can also serve as a trigger to start your day and get into your exercise routine. It helps to regulate our circadian rhythms, improving sleep quality. Allowing the sun to stream into your bedroom, rather than filter it out, can be another nudge in the right direction.
Green spaces are known to compound the benefits of exercise. But you don’t have to leave home to enjoy these perks. With a little maintenance and maybe landscaping changes, your yard could easily be transformed into a personal fitness center that’s instantly accessible, leaving no excuse for missing a workout.
Take advantage of natural elements when designing your home, and you can go beyond appreciating aesthetics to encouraging a healthier, more active lifestyle.