- Dan Buettner, Blue Zones expert and author of The Blue Zones Secrets for Longer Living
- Ryan Frederick, Ryan Frederick is the CEO of SmartLiving360, a consulting and real estate development firm that specializes in housing and healthy aging. Having worked in the field for over fifteen years, Ryan is a recognized leader on the intersection of place...
In essence, the set-up of your home can play a role in your longevity because of the often passive ways in which we make everyday lifestyle decisions, like what to eat and when to move. “For example, Cornell found that up to 90 percent of the food choices we make each day are unconscious,” says Buettner. “So, even if I were to convince you to make good conscious decisions about what you eat, and get you to remember to make those decisions for the next 30 years, that would only cover a fraction of the total number of food decisions you’d be making daily.”
“[Blue Zones residents] live in environments that nudge them unconsciously toward healthier behaviors, like moving more and eating plants.” —Dan Buettner, longevity expert
Instead, to ensure those frequently unconscious lifestyle decisions follow a longevity-promoting course, you can take steps to engineer your surroundings so that a healthy, safe choice is the default. In that realm, design considerations as seemingly mundane as where you place your TV, how your bedroom is organized, and the height of your furniture can all factor into a longevity-boosting home.
And ever since the start of the pandemic, that couldn’t be more important to prioritize. “We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors these days,” says Ryan Frederick, CEO of SmartLiving360, a real-estate development firm that specializes in housing for healthy aging, and author of Right Place, Right Time: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Home for the Second Half of Life. In Frederick’s research on home design for mature populations, he’s found that incorporating elements of mood-boosting biophilic (aka nature-inspired) design and taking care to address accessibility can also help make any home a longevity-enhancing machine.
Below, the experts share their best home design tips for longevity, based on how the longest-living and healthiest seniors outfit their spaces.
9 home design tips for longevity, according to healthy-living experts
1. Put your TV in a room that’s far from your kitchen
We’re not going to say you can’t ever dive into a bowl of popcorn or even eat a full meal while propped on the couch—but studies have found that people tend to eat past the point of fullness when they’re also watching a show. If you have to walk several steps (or even down the stairs) to get to your kitchen from wherever you typically post up for TV time, you’re not only less likely to snack mindlessly, but also, if you do get up to grab a snack, you’re doing a little bit of walking, too. “It’s that type of regular, built-in physical activity that’s easy to maintain,” says Buettner. “And over time, it can have a more consistent effect than a gym membership, which we’ve found most people use fewer than twice a week.”
2. Keep a shoe rack by the door
According to Buettner, this is a one-two punch for longevity. With a rack by the door, you’ll be more likely to take off your shoes right when you get home, a common habit among people in Okinawa, Japan (one of the Blue Zones regions). “We’ve found that 28 percent of shoes carry fecal bacteria,” says Buettner, “and you don’t want to drag that into your home because you can get sick from it.” And separately, a rack also encourages you to keep comfortable walking or running shoes near the door, which will make you all the more likely to put them to good, active use. We love this one from Open Spaces that doubles as a decorative entryway piece.
3. Eat with family members or roommates as often as you can
Sharing a meal with others is an easy way to become more intentional about eating—which can, in turn, lead you to eat more slowly, allowing adequate time for the fullness signal to reach the brain. Not to mention, socializing is one of the core tenets of the Blue Zones regions. “And one of the best ways to build bonds with family or friends is to sit around the dinner table,” says Buettner. Doing so also creates natural punctuation between the go-go-go of the workday and the personal time of the evening, which can help you maintain work-life boundaries.
4. Grow a vegetable or herb garden
If you have any kind of outdoor space, use it to grow edible things, whether in the ground or in containers on a porch or terrace. “Gardening is something we see in every one of the Blue Zones, with people well into their nineties continuing to tend to plants and vegetables,” says Buettner. This has the triple-whammy effect of encouraging you to spend more time in fresh air, be active (weeding and watering require bending down and standing back up, after all), and eat more freshly grown foods.
And if you don’t have access to outdoor space? Set up an indoor herb garden, like this one from The Farmstand. This way, you’ll at least be more likely to consume fresh herbs, of which Buettner recommends growing rosemary and oregano, in particular. “These are often found in the Blue Zones, and they’re not only high in antioxidants but act as mild diuretics, which could help reduce blood pressure,” he says.
5. Bring elements of the outdoors into your home
To mimic the beauty of nature, Frederick suggests decorating your home with houseplants, which can naturally reduce stress. (For an easy starter option, go with a low-maintenance snake plant.) “If you can’t do that, even having pictures of natural landscapes or incorporating natural earthy and green colors into your home can help foster a positive and creativity-boosting environment,” he says, referencing the biophilic design that's characteristic of longevity hot spot Singapore. That concept also extends to filling your home with natural light during the day by opening blinds and windows, if the weather’s nice enough to do so.
6. Design spaces with low furniture and rugs
It's estimated that a quarter of Americans older than 65 fall each year, and it's one of the leading causes of hospitalization, says Frederick. But no matter your age, incorporating low couches and chairs throughout your home is one simple way to steer clear of a fall that could compromise your longevity.
In Okinawa, they take it one step further and sit on the floor, says Buettner: “That means you have a 100-year-old woman getting up and down from the floor 20 or 30 times a day, which is essentially a squat. They end up having better balance, more flexibility, and great lower-body strength.” You can certainly copy that in your own home by sitting on the floor, though Buettner says low furniture works well for this purpose, too. (A cozy chair-and-a-half can do the trick.)
7. Safeguard bathrooms against slips and trips
Because they're slippery, bathrooms rank high on the list of spots where people tend to fall at home. To prevent that, Frederick suggests laying slip-resistant mats on the floor (or installing slip-proof tiles, if you’re able to renovate), adding grab bars to the walls in the shower, and even placing a little bench in the shower. And if you’re in the market for a new place, consider choosing one with a shower instead of a tub, if you have the option, so that you don’t need to climb over the ledge to get into it, adds Frederick.
8. Calm-ify your bedroom
Creating a space that’s as conducive to sleep as possible is an easy way to get more, well, sleep—which offers a host of longevity-boosting benefits, like boosting cardiovascular health and improving cognition. In that vein, Frederick suggests installing blackout curtains on any bedroom window that gets a lot of light and setting up a white-noise machine that can fill your space with a calming and sleep-inducing sound, while also helping block out noise from outside. Regularly dusting and vacuuming your bedroom, and making your bed can also help create the kind of tranquil, sanctuary-like space that’ll help you regularly achieve high-quality sleep.
9. Make your home welcoming to guests
In the same way that eating with family members can strengthen longevity-boosting bonds, socializing more with neighbors and friends can foster the kind of relationships that may also extend your lifespan. While you might already have a dining-room or kitchen table, Frederick suggests creating other little nooks for gathering with tables and chairs throughout your space, or perhaps right outside your front door.
“There’s certainly research to suggest that having close friends supports longevity, but we also know that loose ties, like you might have with neighbors or people in your community, can boost your overall health and well-being,” says Frederick. And the more opportunities you have for engaging with those folks in and around your home, design-wise, the more likely you are to do it.
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