03.10.2019

The Domesticated Human

- From the Latin domesticus meaning ‘belonging to the house’

In 1912 Ernest Thompson Seaton wrote “Half our diseases are in our minds and half in our houses” and that was over a century ago.

Since then we have increasingly become an indoor species - TV, Phone, Gaming and Internet addicts - with a whole generations barely venturing outside. It is thought that both the average Brit and American spend about 90% of their lives indoors! Just take a second to digest that figure. 

In 2001 the NHAPS (The National Human Activity Pattern Survey) data found that the average American spends 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle, totaling 93%.

Some of us are fortunate enough to work outside, but for many, especially compared to previous generations we just don’t go outdoors, especially our children – for millions of years we have evolved to live outdoors, we have evolved to need daylight and fresh air.

A 2019 YouGov study surveyed 16,853 people in 15 countries across Europe and North America and discovered that eight in every 10 people spend almost 22 hours inside every day. In the autumn and winter months, as the nights draw in and the weather deteriorates, we tend to spend even less time outside, with some never going outside al all!

In her book 'Chasing the Sun' Linda Geddes states that  - “The illuminance in a typical office is between 100 and 300 lux during the daytime, whereas on the gloomiest, most overcast winter’s day it is at least ten times brighter outside… In the West we spend our daytimes in the equivalent of twilight, and then keep the lights switched on well after sunset.” 

So what does spending 22 hours a day in gloomy, poorly ventilated boxes do to us?

  • Depresses our mood
  • Causes mental and physical stress
  • Compromises our immune system
  • Sedentary living reduces our fitness
  • Increased risk of asthma
  • Become physically weaker
  • Affects our quality of sleep
  • Become out of sync with our natural circadian rhythms

 

What little things can we do to help mitigate the above? 

  • Spend 30mins outside everyday to recalibrate your circadian clock
  • Sleep with your window open, but use black-out blinds if there is light pollution
  • Don’t hermetically seal your house, open the windows whenever possible, even if it’s cold outside
  • Exercise outdoors, ideally in a natural space with plants and trees
  • Simply go outdoors and move more, being in nature reduces stress
  • Consider a SAD light for the darker months if susceptible to winter depression

 

Do three things today – press the ‘off’ button on your phone and leave it off for a couple of hours, go for a walk somewhere green, open your windows when you come home.

And why are our kids spending less time out doors than we did (and becoming weaker as a result)? The most frequently cited reasons are  - Stranger danger, fast traffic, knife crime and fear of annoying the neighbours. So how do we stop this cycle and try to get the next generation to be more of an outdoor generation?

We need to teach our kids how to avoid trouble and safely cross roads. We need to speak to our neighbours more. We need to stop hovering on the periphery of play. We need to let go. In short, we need to trust our kids more so they don’t inherit our fears. This is not to compromise family time, which is equally as important, but you don’t need to be with your kids all the time. Remember the difference between real risks and perceived risks – “yes, they might get hit by a car or physically attacked, but in reality, they will probably explore, invent games, make friends, run, fall over, get up again, tear clothes, get stronger, improve immunity, push boundaries… be kids.”

Let go… They will come back… Happier and more confident!

  

(Disclaimer: Children will fall over, break stuff, hurt themselves, hurt each other, destroy clothes, scuff shoes, climb on things, etc.)

  

References:

In Chasing the Sun: The New Science of Sunlight and How it Shapes Our Bodies and Minds, by Linda Geddes

The National Human Activity Pattern Survey) (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants, by Neil E. Klepeis and others, and published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2001.

YouGov survey undertaken between 15th April - 1st May 2019 in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and US.

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