Diabetes and Your House

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How often do you think about the influence your house or apartment has on your health? Well, think about it. Where you live can have a bigger health impact than diet or exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control has a Healthy Homes program with tips on food safety, water safety, injury prevention, air quality, poisoning prevention, and emergency preparedness. Important stuff. But there is a lot more to the health/living space connection. If you’re looking for self-management approaches you may have missed, consider some of the following ideas. Most of them can affect diabetes. I’ve put in some links for more information:

• Do you have adequate space for exercise, for other activities, for getting around? Some of us live in apartments too small for much movement. Others of us live in big houses, but they’re so cluttered that it’s not safe to walk around. It’s important to have at least a bit of space where we can stretch out, meditate, or exercise.

• A comfortable place to sleep is also important. Once you have a roof over your head, having a decent bed is probably the best investment you can make. The bed should be in a quiet room with minimal light coming in.

• Do you have a kitchen where you can easily prepare and cook foods? Is there adequate storage for food? And what kind of food do you have? It’s very helpful to keep sugary foods and junk foods out of your home. It’s a lot easier than resisting them when they’re there.

• Healthful things to have in your home are sources of beauty, pleasure, and contact (animal or human). They could be artwork, plants, pets, crafts, pictures of family, and anything that reminds you of the positive things in your life.

• OK, now for some of the negatives. If you have mold or mildew in your home, you’ll feel better if you can get rid of it. It weighs on your immune system and causes allergies and inflammation. Molds and mildews tend to live in damp areas, around bathrooms and kitchens, in the basement, and sometimes around windows.

• But the stuff you clean with can also hurt your health. According to the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia, “On a typical cleaning day in a typical Canadian home, levels of chemicals in the indoor air can be hundreds, even thousands of times higher than the outdoor air in the most polluted of cities.” Many cleaning compounds are toxic. You’ll feel better if you replace them with less toxic products. Poisoning is a major risk, especially for elders and children. It’s best to keep poisons (which household chemicals often are) out of the home entirely. If that’s not going to happen, at least keep them in separate places and label them clearly.

• Our biggest self-pollutant is probably cigarette smoke. Don’t smoke in your home, even if it does make you feel good temporarily.

• Although we aren’t usually aware of it, we share our living space with many other creatures. Some, like pets, can make our lives more pleasant and healthier. Others, like rats and roaches, can cause health problems. Actually, there are all kinds of bugs that can infest a home and cause illness and allergy, and it’s sometimes good to get rid of them. You have to weigh the toxicity of the anti-bug program against the harm caused by the bugs.

• A type of pollution we rarely think about is noise. But noise causes significant health problems. Whether excessive noise is coming from loud TVs or arguing from the people you live with or from traffic and industry outside, you’d probably benefit from either reducing the volume or finding ways (like earplugs or insulation) to cope.

• How does your home smell? Pleasant smells are known to improve health and mood. Obnoxious smells can make you feel bad.

Is your home organized? Can you easily find things, reach things, clean things? This is a real weak point for me. I can waste time and energy each day looking for stuff that’s misplaced or covered up. It’s better when things are organized.

Injury prevention is another important element of a healthy home. Keeping stuff off stairs, having banisters repaired, not having carpets that trip you, chairs that tip over, or heavy objects that can fall on you are all critical to staying safe. So too is having good lighting and making sure that gas and electric lines and appliances are in good shape and are used carefully.

Are you prepared for natural disasters and other emergenices? Out here it’s earthquakes. For you it might be floods or tornadoes, fires or blizzards. In any case, do you have what you need to survive a time of no electricity, heat, or mobility? Do you have a way to escape if necessary?

Despite this ridiculously long (but still incomplete) list, the most important element of a healthy home is the relationships in it. If you live alone, you need some way to keep human contact. If you share a living space, you need positive relationships with your family and housemates.

Healthy living spaces don’t end at your door, either. If you live across the street from a toxic chemical plant, you can’t keep your indoor air clean. If your neighborhood has too much crime, it will be harder to go outside. In a future column, I’ll explore the environments outside our doors, how they affect us, and how we can cope.

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