Freshen up your living space AND well-being with some “spring cleaning”
When it comes to improving your health and well-being, you probably focus A LOT on eating right, supplementing wisely, and getting plenty of exercise.
But do you ever think about how much YOUR HOME impacts those efforts?
After all, it’s where you spend the majority of your time. And the truth is, you could be sabotaging those healthy habits… without even knowing it… by LIVING in a toxic environment.
Well, since “spring cleaning” is top of mind for many this month…
Let’s talk about key elements for a healthy home that will ultimately FRESHEN your body and your mind.
Your living, dining, and working areas
Humans have been creating and displaying art in their living spaces since they were cave dwellers. And it probably has to do with our innate—even biological—desire to seek out happiness and fulfillment.
Not to mention, Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist with the University College London, recently found that just viewing beautiful art increases levels of dopamine—the neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.1
And we now know this reaction occurs when you have ANY type of artistic interaction—whether it be enjoying music, reading a book, visiting a museum, or gazing at a beautiful sunset.
Of course, what you find beautiful is unique to YOU—because beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. So, don’t worry if you don’t enjoy Picasso’s blue period paintings, classical music, or poetry. You may find other things beautiful—like country music, Polish pottery, or plants.
At the end of the day, it ALL triggers the same response in our brains’ pleasure centers.
In fact, it all leads to increased blood flow and heightened activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in expressing personality and social behavior. (This also triggers the same kind of psychological “euphoria” as romantic love.)
The key is to place things you find beautiful in your living, dining, and working spaces—so that you regularly engage with them. Then, they’ll naturally (and effortlessly) help increase the happiness you experience daily.
I personally have a portrait of my beloved, recently departed beagle, Remington, on a wall where I know I will see it almost constantly. It brings me such joy to just see him and feel him with me!
Now, let’s move on to a sacred space in your home…
You already know how I feel about good, quality sleep. It’s a basic human need that’s absolutely vital for good health and well-being.
But many people don’t get as much sleep as they need…
In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every three American adults suffers from “sleep deprivation.”2 And even more suffer from something called “sleep deficiency,” which is a broader term that includes sleep deprivation as well as:
- Sleeping at the wrong time of day
- Sleeping poorly (so your body doesn’t get all the different types of sleep it needs)
- Sleep disorders (such as sleep apnea, which prevent you from getting enough sleep or causes poor-quality sleep)
Of course, suffering from a sleep deficiency can quickly interfere with work, driving, social functioning, and more. Research also links it to a slew of chronic health problems—including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.
And trust me when I tell you that you can’t “learn” to get by on little sleep. Your health and well-being WILL suffer.
Here are some tips for a healthy, soothing sleeping environment…
- Darken your bedroom. Your body needs absolute darkness to promote more restful sleep. So, cover up or block out all sources of light (including alarm clocks) and use room-darkening shades. A sleep mask can also do the trick.
- Keep your phone, tablet, and TV out of your bedroom. You’ll sabotage your sleep by soaking up blue light before bedtime. In fact, I suggest powering down ALL of your devices at least an hour before bedtime. You need to give your body and brain time to relax, unwind, and unplug from our hyper-connected world.
- Use the bed for sleeping only. (Well, and maybe one other activity.) This means no eating, lounging, TV-watching, reading, or scrolling on your phone in bed.
- Add some “green.” Not only are plants beautiful—and help promote good, quality air (more on that in a moment)—certain species may help you sleep better. Those include lavender, jasmine, gardenia, and spider plants.
Now let’s move on to my favorite room in the house…
I know many people who have the most beautiful kitchens, yet rarely ever use them. That’s not me—I love using everything in my kitchen!
Of course, I always make sure my kitchen is well-equipped with everything I need to make cooking at home a breeze. Here’s how you can do the same…
Start by building up your spice rack and pantry essentials. Five healthy herbs and spices that I never go without are: turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ginger. (I also like to keep some fresh basil or parsley handy. Keep them in a pot on your kitchen windowsill—if you have one.)
And some of my pantry staples include…
Macadamia nut oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, flaxseed, Chia seeds, nuts, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, tamari, Tabasco, olives, artichoke hearts, chicken broth, vegetable broth, and beans (of all varieties).
Then, shop regularly for fresh refrigerated items, such as seasonal produce and local grass-fed and -finished meats. (I find daily or weekly trips to the market are key. Choose a schedule that works for you and your budget.)
And finally, start building up your cooking repertoire by trying out a new recipe every week or so. For some fresh inspiration, check out my cooking show, Cooking with Dr. Fred, on Instagram (@DrFredNYC) and YouTube (“The Dr. Fred Show”).
You can also order yourself a copy of my very own A-List Diet book
(www.AListDietBook.com) to gain access to hundreds of healthy recipes.
Now, I recognize this will be hard to do without proper cookware, storage containers, utensils, and serving dishes. So, here’s what I suggest…
Invest in some high-quality, non-toxic cookware—such as stainless steel or cast iron. And please, throw away anything with a “non-stick,” Teflon® coating.
For one, we know that non-stick cookware releases toxic, plastic particles into your food.3 In fact, just one scratch can release up to 9,000 particles!
Plus, Teflon® belongs to a very dangerous family of chemicals called per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). And many different studies link them to an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, changes in your liver, and even reduced vaccine response in children.
Next, plastic food storage containers, utensils, and serving dishes also pose serious problems. They release endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as bisphenol A (BPA).
And beware—even if an item is labeled “BPA-free,” there are just too many chemicals involved in the production for me to feel comfortable using anything plastic. (Refer back to last month’s newsletter, where I reveal just how TOXIC plastic is to our health.)
Instead, opt for glass, metal, or wooden options. And never drink out of plastic water bottles!
That brings me to my final point… the water in your kitchen. People ask me this question all the time: Should I use a water filter?
My answer is a resounding YES! Mainly because most municipalities in the U.S. treat their water with fluoride and/or chlorine. And both substances are carcinogenic.
Plus, trihalomethanes (THMs), which research links to bladder cancer, are the most common disinfection byproducts produced in our public water system.
Fortunately, there are lots of different options when it comes to water filters—ranging from inexpensive pitchers to higher-priced ones you install on your faucet or under the sink. (Some people even have whole-house water filtration systems.)
Another option is drinking natural spring water from glass bottles. (But that gets expensive.)
Now, let’s talk about the air you breathe INSIDE your home…
Your indoor air
During the pandemic, we learned a lot about the importance of indoor air quality. Well, one of my favorite ways to improve air quality is to add some green plants to your home.
For one, plants help clear the air of ubiquitous, toxic household chemicals. Plus, having them around can improve sleep, productivity, and physical health and healing.4 In addition, they can lower heart rates and blood pressure—and reduce stress and cortisol levels.
Not to mention, their lush flowers and foliage add more beauty to your indoor living spaces!
I find that plants look nice (and thrive) in almost every room. But don’t limit yourself to the typical choices, like pothos. Try your hand (or thumb) with different varieties—like rubber trees, Boston ferns, Ficus trees, bamboo palms, bromeliads, and dwarf dates. (I even grew a coconut tree once!)
For quick tips and tricks, head to your local gardening center. They’ll be happy to help you spruce up your home (and your health)!
Now, let’s talk about candles, “air fresheners,” and cleaning products.
Conventional options contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which emit formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and alcohols. These TOXIC chemicals can trigger asthma and allergy attacks as well as cause respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, and even memory impairment.5
Instead, during this time of year especially, opt for fresh flowers or simply open the windows and let in the scents of nature (if you’re able).
Then, when it comes to cleaning, use vinegar, baking soda, and warm water. And, if you want to mix it up, add essential oils to the mix—like lemon, orange, tea tree, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, cinnamon, or pine oils.
Of course, there are lots of safe, pre-packaged cleaning products on the market now. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) website—and more specifically, their Guide to Healthy Cleaning—for the best, non-toxic products.
Finally, let’s talk about who you share your spaces with…
The company you keep
Filling your home with four-legged furry friends is actually one of the best things you can do for your overall well-being.
I certainly don’t know where I would be without the many loving dogs I’ve had in my life throughout the years. And I’m not alone in feeling this way…
In fact, many studies link pet ownership to countless positive health benefits—including improved mood and emotional state, lower blood pressure, and reduced cardiovascular risk.6
Plus, dog owners tend to be less sedentary and more social, which may account for some of the added health benefits.
Now, whether or not pet ownership is for you, I also hope you fill all the rooms in your home with other sorts of friends (and family)… meaning, the non-furry kind!
As with pet ownership, creating and maintaining adult friendships supports just about every aspect of your health—including your psychological health, your heart health, and cognitive well-being.7
Evidence also suggests that having lasting friendships as you grow older helps you to retain your independence, build a sense of purpose, and even live longer! On the flip side, social isolation places older adults in jeopardy for both poor health and low psychological well-being.
Creating healthy havens
At the end of the day, we all want our homes to feel like healthy havens. So, I hope these suggestions will help you create a space that makes you feel safe, happy, relaxed, and well-nourished.
I should also note that you don’t have to conquer a complete home makeover all at once this spring. A sensible approach is to start with just one room—and go from there. I find doing so makes the process more practical, enjoyable, and refreshing.
- “Beauty is in the medial orbito-frontal cortex of the beholder.” Science Daily, 7/7/11. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110706195800.htm)
- “What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?” National Institutes of Health, 3/24/22. (nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation)
- “One Scratch on a Nonstick Pan Can Release 9,100 Plastic Particles, New Study Finds.” Eat This, Not That, 11/4/22. (eatthis.com/teflon-pan-unsafe-study/)
- “5 Benefits of Indoor Plants.” Newsweek, 11/22/22. (newsweek.com/5-benefits-indoor-plants-1761103)
- “Air Fresheners Can Trigger Allergy Symptoms.” Medical News Today, 11/8/11. (medicalnewstoday.com/articles/237311#1)
- “Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk reduction: supporting evidence, conflicting data and underlying mechanisms.” Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2011 Nov;38(11):734-8. doi.org/ 10.1111/j.1440-1681.2011.05583.x.
- “Friendship in Later Life: A Research Agenda.” Innov Aging. 2019 Mar 30;3(1):igz005. doi.org/10.1093/geroni/igz005.