Of the four quadrants, the environment is the one that people think least relates to their own health. There is a lot of focus on the Body quadrant as it relates to health—nutrition, exercise, sleep. There is a fair amount of focus on the Mind quadrant and its connection to health in the form of stress management. Although we may not think about Relationships in terms of our connection to health, we get it. When we spend time with toxic people, we don't feel good. In contrast, the Environment is seen as somehow separate from us. It is viewed as external rather than internal. But the truth is, we are intimately connected to our environment. If we keep the environment healthy, we keep ourselves healthy.
According to the World Health Organization, 25% of health problems are caused by environmental factors. Toxins in the environment have been linked to numerous diseases and health conditions, including asthma, allergies, premature birth, learning disabilities, early puberty, diabetes, reduced fertility, and even many cancers.
Environmental factors that affect our health can be found everywhere—both indoors and outdoors, as well as at work and at home. We ingest the toxins in many ways—through our skin, nose, mouth, and ears. This includes polluted air and water, excessive noise, radiation, hazardous wastes, chemical-filled cleaning products, pesticides, and food and food container contaminants. Some we have control over and some we don’t, but the idea is to lower our toxic load where we can— to do our best to make our environment healthy so that we can be healthy.
According to the Federation of State Public Interest Research Groups, scientists have found more than 100 potentially dangerous industrial chemicals and pollutants in the body of the average American. Read that sentence again. That's scary. Many of the chemicals used in products are introduced into our society and are only later realized to be harmful to our health. Unintentionally, we are the guinea pigs for these chemicals, and the price is high. For example, DDT and PCBs, once used abundantly, were banned in the 1970s when it was recognized how harmful they were. What chemical that is commonly used today will we find out in the future is actually toxic to our health?
I think about the Environment quadrant in connection with health in a variety of contexts. For example, I think about it in terms of cleaning up my personal environment which includes using green cleaning products in my home, using air purifiers to clean the air, removing shoes to keep toxins out, and gardening organically to keep chemicals out of my yard. I also think about it in terms of cleaning up the larger environment which includes reducing my use of plastic bottles, carrying my own reusable shopping bags, stopping catalogs, being kind to wildlife, and using less energy. In addition to greening my personal and expanded environments, I also think about the Environment in terms of the solace and peace it provides me. Creating my home as a safe and clean sanctuary is not only good for my physical health, but also my mental health. Being out in nature is also good for my health. Studies show that even just five minutes of exercising outdoors can be beneficial to us—increasing our self-esteem, improving mood, and decreasing anxiety. There are many ways that our health is intertwined with our environment.
if you are ready to dance with the belle of the ball instead of ignoring the ugly stepchild, here are some ideas from past blogs and the Four Quadrant Living website to help you create an environment that can promote your health. You can just read through the list as a reminder or click on the links if you want more detail.
- Environment Topics - reduce, reuse, recycle, stop catalogs, clean green, properly dispose of toxic waste, use less energy and water, walk or bike instead, say no to plastic, save lives (adopt & spay), travel lightly, simply be (in nature)
- Plastic At Home, Really? - say no to plastic, use cloth instead of paper napkins, be creative with gift wrap, print on both sides
- Shoeless Sanctuary - leave shoes at the door, clean green, avoid non-stick cookware, remodel green, set bugs free, get an air cleaner, garden organically
- Don't Judge A Weed - garden organically
- Free Space, Free Mind - remove clutter (a decluttered environment makes for a decluttered mind)
- Frying the Birds - be kind to wildlife
- My Love Affair with a Mountain, Peace by Nature - find solace (and health) in nature
Don’t judge a weed by its cover. If a dandelion weren’t classified as a weed, it would probably be a cherished flower. When you think about it, dandelions are pretty darn cool. They even have health benefits. So why do they get such a bad rap?
If you look up the definition of a weed, it says, “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.” I find it interesting that the definition has so much subjectivity to it. One person’s weed could be another person’s treasure, depending on how they valued it. And who says that vigorous growth in a yard is a bad thing? For me, a plant that grows without my careful nurturing is my kind of plant. We believe weeds to be the enemy because that is what we are taught to believe. What if instead we had been taught that having weeds pop up in our yard was a sign of good luck? What if a beautiful yard was the one with the most weeds? I like Ralph Waldo Emerson's take on it. He says, "A weed is a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered."
Think about how much time and money you put into killing the weeds in your yard—whether by pulling them individually as they pop up or by spraying them with pesticides. To me, it feels like I am working against nature rather than with it when I am fighting the weeds. And, by using pesticides to kill the weeds, I risk bringing those toxic chemicals into my home. I’m not saying that I’m ready to have a yard full of weeds just yet, but I do not dislike all weeds simply because they have been classified as such. I think they should be considered on an individual basis.
Not only can there be beauty to weeds if you get past their classification as a “weed,” but there are actually some weeds that are beneficial to our health. For example, stinging nettles is a weed that pops up in the spring and is packed with nutrients. They are a good source of protein and contain high amounts of vitamins A, B, and C, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. They are used to help arthritis and allergies, and are often used in detox diets. Dandelions aren’t just pretty to look at and fun to blow on, they are packed with minerals such as iron, potassium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and D. Dandelions are good for cleansing the liver and can help support the digestive system. This is not to say that all weeds are good, it is simply to say that not all weeds are inherently bad.
While I’m plugging weeds, I’d also like to put in a good word for native plants. A native (or indigenous) plant is one that has developed over hundreds or thousands of years in a particular region. They have adapted to the geography and climate of that region. This is in contrast to a non-native plant which has been introduced by humans. Native plants typically require less fertilizer, water, and care than their non-native counterparts which is good for you and the environment. (By the way, weeds can be native or non-native.)
When planning your garden, how about working with nature and finding out which plants are indigenous to your area? And, when you see a weed pop up, rather than immediately reaching for the weed-killer which is full of toxins, try seeing the weed in a new light. Is it a weed because you really don’t want it growing there or is it a weed because others have told you it’s a weed?