Could Your House Be Making You Fat?

Active Design bookAre all the time-saving innovations we bring in to improve our homes and home life actually making us fat? Quite possibly so. Think about it. Washing machines keep us from hard work of hand washing. Dryers mean we don't have to make all those nice stretches to hang clothes on the line. Sprinkler systems mean no more hand watering and gas fireplaces mean no more chopping wood. You don't even have to roll out the dough anymore unless you really want to. Not to mention that the remote control can keep us practically immobile for hours.

Sure, we invest in such convenience products because the lives of most Americans have only gotten busier with longer, more demanding work days and many dual-income families. At the same time, though, there's also a growing obesity problem in the nation. So what if your home was designed to promote a little more physical activity -- and in a way that was enjoyable and beneficial beyond the health benefits? Yes, it's possible.


The NYC Department of Design and Construction has made it a goal to establish guidelines for the relationship between public health and public space. They've published a new handbook titled Active Design Guidelines (free download). "Active design" is all about designing spaces that encourage physical activity and interactive play. What a concept!

And no, it doesn't mean you have find yourself an archaic washboard or string up a clothesline (unless you want to). Instead, homes could actually be designed to inspire more movement and healthy activities -- and this new kind of thinking could also inspire homeowners to make similar adjustments in their existing homes, too.

A few types of active design ideas that could be used single family homes (some theirs; some mine):

  • To start, build housing communities with access to public transit, parks, schools, open spaces, recreational facilities, and grocery shopping in mind.
  • By design, encourage brief but daily bouts of walking to shared spaces or to, say, the mailbox.
  • Provide storage for television/entertainment systems that can be closed off from the rest of the room.
  • Design visually appealing and comfortable stairs for everyday use.
  • Provide spaces that support exercise, such as physical activity spaces, workout rooms, and secure bicycle storage.
  • Bring back the indoor atrium for easy, accessible, year-round gardening.
  • Design yards or rooftops with space for active play, traffic-calming landscaping, lighting, benches, fruit trees, and space for growing edible gardens.

No time soon am I going to suggest the invention of a bicycle that runs our washing machine -- cause frankly, my legs would fall if I had to use them to wash the number of piles of laundry we always have around here. Let's not get ludicrous here. However, I do love the idea of homes and communities being built with some physical activity in mind -- and as an extra bonus, contributing to healthier eating (edible home gardens) and less wear and tear on the planet (more bicycling, walking). I think if we put our creative minds to use, we can come up with many smart and even enjoyable ways to get moving a little more around our homes -- even within our existing homes!

Heck, Yankees Derek Jeter could put in a 500-yard dash inside his gigantic home.

What changes could you make to your home to encourage your family to be more physically active?


Image via NYC Dept. of Design & Construction

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