87 Ways to Feel Healthier at Home

87 Ways to Feel Healthier at Home

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Home is where you sleep, eat, bathe yourself and, potentially, where you work — all things that can impact your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. So while home is definitely where the heart is, it’s also a fundamental contributor to your overall health. 

Your living space, adds Emily Capuria, LISW-S, CHHC, a licensed independent social worker and the founder of coaching practice Balance & Thrive, often serves as an external expression of who you are, and in turn, influences how you feel. For example, if your coffee table is piled with unsorted mail, or you come home from work every day to see a sink full of dirty dishes, “you’re constantly in this state of being surrounded by all that you have to do, so it’s really hard to relax,” Capuria says. 

Thankfully, you can leverage your living space and what you do in it to feel healthier and happier on the daily, no expensive renos required. Of course, “healthy” means something different to every person, and it can also mean many things to each person. We aimed to find ideas that cover a wide variety of situations, from keeping germs out to avoiding physical injuries to doing things that make you smile. You know your body and what it needs best, so pick your favorites (even one, if that’s all you can manage!) and stick with the practices that really resonate. 

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In Your Entryway

1. Take off your shoes at the door.

This is something that Michael Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer emeritus at the Cleveland Clinic, does every time he enters his home, “to keep the outside out.” The bottoms of your shoes track in dirt and germs, so instead, keep a pair of inside-only shoes or slippers by the door to change into when you get home. 

2. Tidy up your entrance.

Looking for a “low lift, high reward” decluttering project? Interior designer Anita Yokota (who used to be a practicing therapist) says to tackle your entryway. When it’s unorganized, it can be a stressful distraction every time you pass through it; when it’s clutter-free, she says it can instantly reset your entire home’s mood, and your own.

3. Take the stairs, again and again.

Got stairs in your house or building? Take time every day to do some reps going up and down if you’re physically able to. Your heart rate will be going in no time. 

4. Check your smoke detector.

5. And your carbon monoxide detector, too.

An estimated 50,000 Americans visit the emergency room every year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You should change the batteries of your CO detector at least every six months, according to the CDC, to help avoid accidents. (And if you don’t have one, get one right now.)

6. Test your flashlight batteries.

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In Your Kitchen and Dining Area

7. Make something from scratch.

Not a fan of deep breathing or meditating? The act of cooking or baking can provide similar benefits, says Capuria. “Mindfulness is a single point of focus,” she says. “It’s doing anything that you can get out of that space of overthinking, and just focus and do a repetitive action.” Following a recipe can fit the bill, so consider this a reason to whip up your favorite dessert. Bonus points if rolling, kneading, mixing, etc. is involved. 

8. Organize your spices.

Spices and seasonings are easy ways to add flavor and health benefits to your food, but Maya Feller, R.D., says few people keep their collections organized — making them less likely to use what they have. “Creating a spice home with clear labeling is one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re taking your dish to the next level,” she says. 

9. Refill your water bottle.

10. Wipe down your kitchen counters.

“Keeping a clean and well-organized kitchen space does wonders for a person’s outlook, especially when they are gearing up to cook,” says Feller. Want an easy place to start tidying? Clear and wipe down your counters to combat disease-causing germs and make the room feel instantly tamer.  

11. Prepare your favorite meal.

“Just making something really comforting, whether it be a soup [or] good pancakes… makes you feel good,” points out Janea Brown, home blogger and founder of JnayDaily.

12. Sip on a soothing tea.

13. Keep produce at eye level. 

14. Cook with loved ones.

“Inviting family members and friends over to take part in the cooking process is a great way to connect,” says Feller. Dub your roommate your sous chef, or have your partner pick out a recipe and make it together. 

15. Ditch your sponge for good.

16. Stock up on aromatics. 

“I always have a basket of onion, garlic, and ginger on my countertop for adding flavor to all of my dishes,” says Feller. These three aromatic ingredients add lots of flavor as well as health benefits, she says, such as potentially fighting inflammation and reducing the risk of heart disease. All three are fundamentals to many different cuisines, making them true kitchen MVPs. 

17. Make flavored ice cubes. 

Adding flavor (sans sugar) to your water is another easy way to incentivize yourself to drink enough water every day. Plus, it makes your millionth glass of water look extra pretty. Here’s how to do it.

18. Sharpen your knives.

Feller says a sharp set of knives is “non-negotiable” for her in the kitchen. “Being able to cut foods quickly and easily makes the experience of cooking so much more enjoyable,” she says. Additionally, sharp knives cut more precisely, reducing your risk of injury. Slash your prep time (and chance of avocado hand) by sharpening your knives. Just once or twice a year will suffice

19. Organize your reusable bags.

It’ll make running errands less stressful and more sustainable. 

20. Clean your reusable bottles and straws.

You’re doing your bod and the environment a solid if you take advantage of sustainable sipping habits, but don’t forget to clean your reusable water bottles and straws. Moisture left behind in these items can trap bacteria and become a breeding ground for mold and mildew, so you should be washing both every single day. 

21. Eat with your family.

22. Bust out your nicer dishes.

Capuria wants you to start treating daily life like a special occasion in order to help you feel happier. One place to start? Your dishware. “Bring out those dishes that are for special occasions that you never use,” she says. “Start using them now.”

23. Have a family meeting.

Yokota says she urges all of her clients to treat the dining room table as a “neutral communication hub” for families. Gather your household there to discuss pressing issues or just to catch up — and show your relationships some love in the process. 

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In Your Bedroom

24. Make your bed.

The simple habit not only makes your room look instantly cleaner but, according to The Sleep Foundation, could help you sleep better at night. Guess mom was really onto something…

25. Stretch for 10 minutes. 

Start your day with some gentle movement to get your blood flowing and shake off the stiffness of sleep. Stretching helps you be more flexible, too — according to the American Council of Exercise (ACE), at least a five- to 10-minute session is ideal.

26. Tidy one shelf.

Keeping a space neat and clutter-free can support your mood and stress levels, but you don’t need to deep-clean to enjoy those benefits. Capuria suggests finding the simplest possible task that will make you feel good — like cleaning off a shelf or drawer. You’ll feel better in minutes.

27. Set your phone’s nighttime settings to earlier. 

Dr. Roizen says that he uses his phone’s built-in settings to ensure that it stops emitting blue light (which can affect your sleep cycle in the evening) and switches to warmer light after 7 p.m. Sound early? He says that you should have yours turned on at least three hours before your bedtime — which might be earlier than many phones’ automatic sunset-to-sunrise settings. 

28. Keep a notepad by your bed.

29. Set up a pleasure station.

Sex and masturbation are important parts of many people’s overall well-being — so why do you still keep your lube in a shoebox shoved under the bed? Start making your sexual wellness a priority by moving your sexytime accoutrements to a nice box or basket.  

30. Donate your old clothes.

David H. Rosmarin, Ph.D., founder of the Center for Anxiety and an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, says keeping old clothes that you don’t like or no longer fit can affect your mental health. “Sometimes people are clinging onto a body image that they don’t have, which can affect self-esteem,” he says. Having only older, poorly fitting clothing can also make people less inclined to leave the house, he adds, which can impact their social life (and by extension, their mental health). Start with your closet and spend 15 minutes sorting through your clothes. If it doesn’t fit or you haven’t worn it in at least a year, it needs to go. (And here’s your guide on how to rehome your garments.)

31. Play nature sounds.

Yokota is a big fan of bringing elements of nature indoors to create a relaxing space. One way to achieve this is playing nature sounds (you can find lots of playlists on Spotify) as you drift off to sleep, as sounds of nature can help calm the nervous system and support relaxation.

32. Or try a white noise machine. 

33. Place lavender on your nightstand.

Lavender is an aromatherapy powerhouse that smells so good and, in small studies, has been linked with improved sleep quality — which is why Capuria recommends keeping some in a vase by your bed. It’s a small way to turn your bedroom into a spa-like oasis. 

34. Splurge on a silk eye mask. 

35. Vacuum under the bed.

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In Your Bathroom 

36. State your intention for the day.

Yokota turns her bathroom into a therapeutic space by reciting affirming mantras while she’s washing her face. Pick a phrase that has meaning to you (like a quote from your favorite book or a saying that motivates you), and use it as a way to set the tone for the day. 

37. Hang eucalyptus in your shower.

38. Style your vanity countertop.

Make your bathroom a relaxing oasis by thinking through the design of your countertop like you would for any other room, suggests Brown. Some thought starters: Add a vase with dried flowers or a tray to hold your skin-care products, and put your soap or lotion into pretty reusable containers. 

39. Take a night soak. 

Yes, it may seem like a self-care cliché, but baths come with a variety of mind-body benefits. Hot baths can relax muscles and joints, contribute to mental relaxation, and can help you sleep better, especially when paired with de-stressing bath salts and scents. 

40. Give yourself a massage. 

While you’re in the shower or bath, work on any tight neck and shoulder knots with a DIY rubdown. Take that, WFH neck (see also: number 73). 

41. Wash your hands. Seriously.

42. Swap out your towels.

Fresh, clean towels are one of the easiest ways to help your bathroom feel clean and relaxing, says Yokota. Switch them out every three to four uses for hygienic and aesthetic purposes. 

43. Empty out your medicine cabinet.

Why are you hanging onto that expired bottle of sunscreen from 2015? For the record, it’s definitely not just you — but you’ll feel so much better if you bag it. 

44. Try a cold shower.

45. Replace your toothbrush.

Are you tossing yours every three to four months? You should do so, as old toothbrushes are less effective, increasing your risk of spending more time in the dentist’s chair. 

46. Refresh your first-aid kit.

Because expired ointment and fossilized bandages are of no use to anyone in an emergency.

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In Your Living Room 

47. Vacuum for 20 minutes.

48. Paint a wall.

If you own your place or have an amenable landlord, cover one wall of a room with your favorite hue, Capuria suggests. It’ll brighten your spirits every time you enter.

49. Add pops of color.

Can’t paint? Introduce color in other ways, suggests Yokota, such as through accent pillows, blankets, or other easily swappable items. 

50. Listen to music you don’t normally listen to. 

You might be tempted to put on the same playlist you always play, but Dr. Rosmarin says you can get an instant refresh by switching on a different beat. “If you’re feeling stressed at home, change your environmental context,” he says. Changing your music is one example of that — it can help shake things up and put your problems or worries in a different context, he says. 

51. And dance while you do it.

Because: Who doesn’t love a dance party? And also: another great way to get in some movement.

52. Swap out your pictures. 

This is a simple way to update your place and make yourself happier, says Capuria, because “a lot of times people keep family photos that elicit feelings of sadness or pain or [unhappy] past memories.” She recommends surveying your space to make sure that the photos you display truly put a smile on your face. 

53. Set up a small craft station.

Hobbies are an important part of supporting emotional and mental health. Whether you started painting watercolors during the pandemic or have always been into crochet, dedicate space for those activities so you’re further incentivized to spend time on them. No big overhaul necessary: This could be as simple as rearranging your shelves to make your supplies more accessible. 

54. Get the plant.

You knew we’d put this on this list, right? Adding houseplants to any room is a great method for bringing in vibrancy and life and tending to your mental health

55. Activate your lungs with yoga breathing. 

“When we are indoors, we sit more, get more screen time, exercise less, and use our lungs less efficiently,” explains Ingrid Yang, M.D., an internal medicine doctor and registered yoga teacher. The issue, she says, is that “without use, the muscles that support your breathing become weaker and lung tissue loses elasticity.” So take a few breathing breaks throughout the day to recharge. Dr. Yang is a particular fan of “breath of fire,” a breathing exercise common in Kundalini yoga that involves taking rapid, rhythmic breaths for better mental clarity and reduced stress. Here’s a tutorial on how to do it.

56. Swap screen time for some reading. 

When was the last time you did something for yourself that didn’t involve a screen? Take a break and read a new book or a magazine in your favorite chair. 

57. Get cozy in your favorite blanket.

Combine this with number 56, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfectly relaxing evening. 

58. Walk and talk with your best friend. 

Talking to your BFF is the perfect antidote to a bad day. Dr. Roizen suggests walking around the house while you do it to sneak in some extra physical movement.

59. Display fresh flowers.

Treat yourself to that $10 bouquet from the farmer’s market! 

60. Create a self-care kit.

Store together some of your most comforting objects — maybe that favorite blanket from number 57, a feelings journal, or a specific aromatherapy blend — for easy access on bad days. Think of it as a hug in a box. 

61. Open your windows.

Capuria considers this an easy, instant mood boost (so long as it’s safe, not too hot or cold, and not too pollen-y out to do so). 

62. Clean your air filters.

Your AC and furnace filters are on the front lines of keeping the air in your home healthy and safe. So clean and change your filters regularly (here are more specifics on the when and how) to ensure that they’re doing their best work. 

63. Learn something new.

Arming yourself with new skills and information can help keep your mind sharp, especially as you age. So download a language learning app, or watch a YouTube tutorial so you can finally start handling your own oil changes. 

64. Make your exercise do double-duty.

65. Do something fun for yourself.

Play, even as an adult, is crucial to mental well-being. Try something to spark a little joy in your day-to-day, whether it’s making a pillow fort with your kids or playing a game on Zoom with your long-distance besties. 

66. Clean your electronic devices. 

67. Cry. 

Crying can provide much-needed emotional and stress relief, but with some caveats. “Crying should be done on a loveseat, not on an armchair,” Dr. Rosmarin says. What he means: “You really want to be able to share that [moment] with someone else,” says Dr. Rosmarin, in order to have a more supportive emotional experience. 

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In Your Work-from-Home Area

68. Set up a WFH crash bag.

If you’re one of many, many people continuing to work from home at least some days each week, Yokota suggests keeping extra chargers, a notebook, pens, and other work essentials in an easily accessible bag. It’ll save you stress and time if you need to relocate from your desk to accommodate your partner’s work call or your roommate’s barre class.

69. Clean off your desk.

70. Spring for some lumbar support.

Raise your hand if you’ve been working from a kitchen stool or dining chair for the past year-plus. Dr. Rosmarin says getting a lumbar support for his desk chair was the best $10 he spent during the pandemic. 

71. Amp up your natural light.

Natural light exposure, especially in the morning, can help support productivity, healthy sleep patterns, and a better mood. Make the most of what you have by confirming that your furniture doesn’t block your windows and that your shades or curtains are thrown open as much as possible. In a pinch, Brown says placing a mirror opposite a window can also help increase natural light. 

72. Team up with a work buddy.

To reduce the social isolation that can come with WFH, Dr. Rosmarin suggests working in tandem with someone, whether it’s a housemate or even via Zoom with your favorite colleague. It helps mimic the feeling of an office or communal work setting where you’re working alongside people and can say hi or chat when desired. “These kinds of behavioral strategies are really critical so we remain socially less isolated,” he says.

73. Do some neck rolls. 

Find yourself staring at your laptop for hours at a time? “I find that no matter where I am at — watching TV in the living room, or on the hospital floor — neck rolls are a great way to loosen tight neck muscles and avoid ‘tech neck,’” explains Dr. Yang. “Roll the head gently in small circles, first clockwise, then counterclockwise, just a minute or two throughout the day, to ease tight muscles and prevent strain.” 

74. Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath, and just sit for a minute to ground yourself and reset.

75. Work in a different location.

Feeling stuck? Take your laptop or project to a new room or spot in the house. A change in scenery, no matter how small, can sometimes be enough to get the juices flowing. 

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In Your Laundry Room

76. Clean your washing machine. 

77. Wash your bath mat.

This should happen every week in order to combat mildew and bacteria buildup. And like fresh towels (number 42), a clean bath mat can help change the mood of the entire room. 

78. And wash your pillows.

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In Your Yard

79. Plant your favorite herbs.

Growing basil, cilantro, chives, or other herbs is a great way to get into all of the physical and mental benefits of gardening even if you have a super-small space. Bonus: You get to cook with the fruit (er, herbs) of your labor. 

80. Set up a bird feeder.

This is another simple way to engage with nature, even if you’re only working with a fire escape. You’ll support your local bird population, and you’ll get a kick out of watching them. 

81. Rearrange your patio chairs.

Specifically, to promote the kinds of things you like doing outside, says Capuria. Put them in better view of your bird feeder if you’re really into number 80, or group them closer together if you want to spend more QT outside with loved ones. 

82. Eat outside.

Brown loves to do this on days when she needs a lift. Even if it’s just sitting on your front steps with a sandwich, you’ll nab the perks of fresh air. 

83. Set out citronella candles.

Because nothing kills the vibe of a backyard hang quite like legs covered in itchy mosquito bites.

84. Do some laps.

Even if it’s just around the house or yard.

85. Invite friends over.

After months of huge societal changes due to the pandemic, “we’re seeing so much social isolation,” says Dr. Rosmarin, and loneliness can take a toll on mental health. So invite a few friends over to hang out in your outside space, if you have one, to reap the benefits of both the outdoors and in-person social connection.

86. Install a hammock.

If you have the room, a hammock’s relaxing and lounging properties can’t be beat. (It’s also a great place for number 56 on a nice day.)

87. Jump, jump around.

This might seem silly, but Dr. Roizen swears by it to help strengthen his hips and spine. “I do 20 jumps in the morning when I go out to the car and 20 jumps at night when I get out of my car,” he says. 

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.

9 Easy Home Tips and Hacks for People Who Can’t Stop Sneezing Inside

9 Easy Home Tips and Hacks for People Who Can’t Stop Sneezing Inside

It makes sense that you might deal with allergy symptoms when you step outside during certain times of the year (looking at you, spring). But when you start sneezing inside, it’s a little confusing. Are you allergic to something in your house? Yep, it’s possible.

Indoor allergies can cause all of those unpleasant symptoms that seasonal allergy sufferers struggle with — sneezing, stuffiness, runny nose, and an itchy throat, eyes, and ears — but year-round, says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. Millions of people experience allergies to things that are found indoors, like dust mites, pet allergens, and indoor molds, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI).

Sound like something you’re dealing with? You don’t need to just endure it. Try these indoor allergy hacks to get relief.

Avoid Fabric-Covered Headboards

Dust mites are a common indoor allergy trigger and, while they can be found pretty much anywhere in your home, they thrive in warm, humid spots like bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpeting, per the AAAAI. You can’t see these teeny creatures without a microscope, but they can still cause uncomfortable symptoms.

“Any furniture covered in fabric is ‘evil’ in the eyes of allergists,” says David Corry, M.D., professor of medicine-immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at Baylor College of Medicine. And a fabric-covered headboard will harbor dust mites right near your head, he points out, which can make your allergy symptoms even worse while you try to sleep. If you’re shopping for a headboard, Dr. Parikh says “anything not fabric or upholstered,” including those made of wood and metal, are a good choice. 

Use Your Vacuum on the Regular

The best way to keep indoor allergies on lockdown is to routinely clean — and your floors are an easy place to start.

Kara Wada, M.D., an allergist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, suggests running your vacuum weekly to suck up dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, and other indoor allergens that may be lurking on your hardwood and carpet. 

Heads-up: Dr. Corry says the best vac option is one that has a HEPA filter, which removes 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns or larger (as in, really small things). “They physically remove allergens from the air,” Dr. Corry says. 

Wear a Mask When You Dust

Your go-to face mask does more than help protect you from COVID-19. Try putting one on while you dust to keep dust mites and their byproducts away from your nose and mouth. “This helps decrease exposure to dust mite waste and filters out some of the particulates that may also be irritating to the nose and sinus tissues,” says Dr. Wada. 

In a perfect world, you’d wear an N95 mask, Dr. Corry says, “but they are very uncomfortable to use, especially when exerting, i.e. with cleaning.” Instead, he says, a cloth face mask should help. “For the majority of people, a regular cloth mask is OK,” Dr. Parikh says. If you have incredibly intense allergies, though, you probably want to opt for an N95, KN95, or KF94 mask. 

If you really want to ramp up the protection, you can wear protective glasses or goggles to keep dust away from your eyes as well, says Dr. Corry. “The more you protect your mucosal surfaces, the better,” he says.

Open Up Windows and Doors While Cleaning

Try propping open windows or even leaving your exterior doors ajar when you dust and vacuum. This will create better airflow through a room, which can “reduce exposure to indoor allergens,” Dr. Parikh says. Then, you’re less likely to feel like you’re having an allergic reaction during your cleaning routine.

One caveat/pro tip, per Dr. Parikh: “Don’t do this during pollen season, as it may exacerbate pollen allergies.” 

Purchase Dust Mite Covers for Your Pillows and Mattress

Simply putting a cloth pillowcase and sheets over your bedding does next to nothing when it comes to keeping dust mites out. Dust mite covers, on the other hand, swath your mattress and pillows in a special allergen-proof fabric or plastic to get the microscopic creatures away from your bedding, according to Dr. Wada. 

“The tight weave of these coverings helps prevent us from breathing in dust mite waste,” Dr. Wada explains. They’re easy to use, too: Just slip them over your pillow or mattress and then put your sheets on top.

Make Your Bedroom a No-Pets Zone

Speaking of your bedroom… you spend a lot of time in there, and if indoor allergens are lurking, you could get stuffy while you’re trying to snooze. “Of all rooms, the bedroom is the most important to keep allergen-free,” Dr. Parikh says. 

Pets can be a big source of indoor allergens, according to Dr. Wada, which is why they should stay out of your sleep space. “Pets not only have their own allergen they produce, but they also can track in pollen and mold spores if they are spending time outdoors,” she says. “Keeping them out of the bedroom can allow your body a break from the ongoing exposure to allergens while you rest.”

Even if you’re a cleaning machine, it’s nearly impossible to keep indoor allergens out of the air you breathe. But running an air purifier can help minimize the amount that’s circulating in any given room, explains Dr. Parikh.

Dr. Corry recommends using an air purifier with a HEPA filter and, if you need your room to be silent when you snooze, running your purifier in the room during the day with your bedroom door closed so a lot of allergens from other rooms don’t seep in, and turning it off just before you sleep. “The air in the room will be purified by then, assuring you an aeroallergen-free night,” he says.

Limit Yourself to a Few Houseplants

Houseplants can perk up just about any space, but they also can provide a safe haven for indoor allergens. Keeping the number of houseplants you have at your place on the lower side can help reduce dust mite and mold exposure, since both can build up on your plants, Dr. Parikh says.

Don’t freak, though! You don’t need to completely eliminate plants from your home. There’s no exact science to this, but Dr. Corry suggests sticking to one houseplant per room to limit possible exposure. 

Don’t Leave Your Shower Running

Letting your bathroom get nice and steamy before you shower is a simple luxury, but it can also boost molds that may be lurking in there (in addition to, of course, using up a lot of water). That’s why the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends that you don’t run your shower for a long time before you hop in. 

Leaving the shower running doesn’t just let mold thrive; it also can encourage dust mites. The habit “increases the humidity in the home, and dust mites thrive off of comfortable temperatures, humidity, and shed human skin cells,” Dr. Wada says.

Another hack: Make sure you run the bathroom fan. “A fan will help with air exchanges and removing humidity, which will really help keep mold growth in check,” Dr. Corry says. 

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.

The Weird History of Home Fitness

The Weird History of Home Fitness

Home fitness is having a serious moment right now, and it looks like all those pandemic home gyms people scrambled to create have staying power. Clearly, working out where you live isn’t a new trend, but you may not realize just how we got here. 

While men’s urban athletic clubs and YMCAs have been around since the late 19th century, says Shelly McKenzie, Ph.D., author of Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America (and physically intense labor both in and out of the house has been around since about forever, obviously), the idea of working out is a relatively more recent thing.

“Before the ’40s, there was no real home fitness,” says Dr. McKenzie, “because medical knowledge about the need for exercise as a part of a healthy lifestyle did not begin to take shape until the 1960s.”

Dr. McKenzie says commercial clubs started popping up in the 1920s but didn’t become more common for a few decades. It also wasn’t acceptable for women to hit these gyms until the ’50s and ’60s, and at that point they still couldn’t show up at the same time as the guys. “Men and women alternated days,” Dr. McKenzie says.

Even as gyms grew in popularity, though, people continued to use home fitness for the same reasons they do today: It’s convenient and offers some level of privacy. So, how did we get to our current love of treadmills, interactive cycling, and BOSU balls? Here’s a look back at the (admittedly strange) history of exercising at home. 

While stretching is now considered part of a warm-up or cooldown, it was the main form of exercise back in the 1940s. Or, at least, it was for women. “It was the only acceptable kind of exercise for women,” says Dr. McKenzie. “It was not suitable for a lady to get sweaty.” So, women would do toe touches, side bends, and other stretches in their homes and…that was about it. 

There was some value in this, according to Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology and epidemiology and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health at Michigan State University. “Stretching, if done correctly, can be a valuable adjunct to any exercise program,” he says. Key word, of course, being adjunct. 

Hula hoops first hit the market in 1958 and were an instant hit, with up to 120 million sold in the first six months, according to The Washington Post. Kids and adults were into these oversized circles of plastic, and they did offer some exercise. Hula hooping can burn “a few calories” and can strengthen core muscles if done for longer periods of time, Dr. Pivarnik says. The fad didn’t last, though, and eventually the hoop just became a kids’ toy.

1950s and 1960s: Vibrating Belts

The ’50s and ’60s saw the rise of vibrating belts, which people slipped around various parts of their bodies — abs, arms, butt — and hooked up to a machine. The belt then vibrated and allegedly got rid of fat in the process. It seems completely wonky now, but “exercise wasn’t well understood” at the time, including what you should do and when you should do it, explains Dr. McKenzie. “A lot of doctors didn’t even have opinions on it.” 

People were into the idea of space travel during this period, so they were interested in futuristic gadgets. “People thought, ‘Why shouldn’t we think that an electrical device could be helpful for losing weight?’” says Dr. McKenzie. “We couldn’t rule out what was helpful and what wasn’t.” 

For what it’s worth, Dr. Pivarnik says there’s “no real evidence that vibrating belts do anything useful for one’s body.” 

The biggest exercise trends in the ’70s were jogging and racquet sports like tennis, squash, and racquetball, Dr. McKenzie says. Treadmills started to rise in popularity, she says, along with stationary bikes.

People also began exercising along to records like Slenderide and Good Housekeeping’s Musical Plan for Reducing, Dr. McKenzie says. Think of them like fitness tapes, just audio only. And TV programs like The Jack LaLanne Show allowed people to get their sweat on at home while using household objects like chairs, broomsticks, and rubber cords.

Actor Jane Fonda hit gold in 1982 when she released Jane Fonda’s Workout, an at-home workout video that led viewers through dance-style aerobic exercises. It became an instant favorite, and Fonda released a series of other home workout videos that collectively sold more than 17 million copies, according to Fonda’s website

Natalia Petrzela, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at The New School who’s working on a book titled Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise as the Government Abandoned It, says part of the reason these tapes made such an impression is because you could follow along with them at home due to the rise of the VCR. Before Fonda, “there was home fitness on TV, but not on video,” Dr. Petrzela says, noting that those programs weren’t gender specific. “Suddenly, women had a program targeted to them — it’s easy to see why it became a bestseller,” she says.

Plus, Fonda’s tapes allowed people to exercise on their own schedules and “made exercise available to people who didn’t live in urban or suburban areas,” Dr. McKenzie says.

The Reebok STEP was released in the 1990s and became a huge success. The device, which is essentially a platform with an adjustable height, was created for step aerobics, a type of workout that involved a lot of stepping on and off the platform. It took off across the country. “STEP aerobics became so popular because it offered the choreography and music of aerobics but with the promise of additional muscle training thanks to the risers,” Dr. McKenzie says. 

The ThighMaster is a leg and thigh workout that used a V-shaped device with a hinge that promised to strengthen the inner thighs. Actor Suzanne Somers peddled the equipment via infomercials in the 1990s — and is still doing so today. The ThighMaster “really resonated with people” because the Federal Trade Commission had recently changed restrictions on marketing to consumers, leading to the rise of the infomercial, Dr. McKenzie says. “Now, people were able to do 30-minute infomercials, and the ThighMaster was primarily promoted this way,” she says. “It became incredibly popular.”

The ThighMaster was also a hit because “it wasn’t expensive and could be easily stowed away at a moment when working out was not necessarily something that you wanted to show off,” Dr. Petrzela says.

The BOSU ball debuted in 2000, with people ponying up for the half dome-shaped inflatable rubber ball on a platform. The ball was — and still is — used for balance training and to add another layer of difficulty to exercises like squats, push-ups, and bicep curls. “It offered something different to people,” Dr. McKenzie says. 

The Shake Weight became a viral hit in the 2010s thanks to infomercials that had an, um, indirectly sexually suggestive vibe. The weight itself is a modified dumbbell that oscillates, allegedly to increase the impact of exercise. 

FWIW: In 2011, Consumer Reports actually tested out the Shake Weight’s promises of firmer arms and shoulders after just six minutes of use a day, and found that they were bogus.

“There is no evidence that I know of that shows there is any more benefit to using Shake Weights compared to normal dumbbells,” Dr. Pivarnik says. 

Indoor cycling fans had been heading to pricey studios like SoulCycle and Flywheel for several years when Peloton launched in 2013 as a way for people to stream these types of classes right from their home fitness equipment if they had the financial means to do so. “The advantage people see is time saving,” says Dr. McKenzie. “You don’t have to arrive at the gym, put your stuff in a locker, and get to the fitness floor. You also don’t have to try to get a time reservation for a popular class.” Instead, she says, Peloton and other live-streaming, at-home exercise services it has inspired are “always there” (for a price, of course).

When COVID-19 spread in 2020, many exercisers began reimagining their workout routines, improvising hand weights with stuff they found around the house and trying out body-weight exercises. And lots of people who had chosen to hold gym memberships rather than invest in at-home streaming equipment decided this was the time to spring for a Peloton and work out from home instead. “It’s very hard to reproduce the experience of a workout at the gym,” says Dr. Petrzela, but Peloton “allowed people to have a similar community feel.”

While Dr. Petrzela says she doesn’t expect the popularity of gyms to go away, she does anticipate that home workouts will continue to be big. “Home fitness will always be more convenient,” she says.

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.

8 Genius Sleep Ideas That Mental Health Pros Give Their Most Anxious Patients

8 Genius Sleep Ideas That Mental Health Pros Give Their Most Anxious Patients

Anxiety can impact every aspect of your life. It can affect how you manage from day to day — and night to night. Because, of course, anxiety can also alter how you sleep. Little Rock, Arkansas-based psychiatrist Rhonda Mattox, M.D., compares anxiety before bed to the boogeyman. “It’s just an object or garment that [a person’s] brain has magnified and made scary,” she says. 

The good news is you don’t just have to suffer through insomnia, which can worsen your anxiety, since lack of sleep can negatively impact your mood and cause a nasty cycle. We asked mental health pros for the tips they give their most anxious patients in order to help them finally get some restful ZZZs. 

Of course, if you’re experiencing anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue, you can also speak with your primary care provider and/or mental health practitioner about other options, from talk therapy to medication. 

First, Create a Sleep Routine

Your circadian rhythm describes the physiological and mental functions that follow a 24-hour cycle and helps to regulate hormone releases, eating habits, and body temperature. If your biological clock is on the fritz, practicing good sleep hygiene, or sleep habits, and creating a steady bedtime plan can help, says New Jersey-based psychologist Xiaolu Jiang, Psy.D. “If you don’t have a routine, it throws our circadian rhythm off,” she says. Here’s what that routine could look like. 

First and foremost: “Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake time,” recommends Dr. Jiang. Yep, just like when you were a kid. And “even if you don’t fall asleep until much later, still wake up at the same time,” Dr. Jiang says. 

Only Use Your Bed for Sleep (Seriously!) 

Especially during the past year of work-from-home, play-from-home, exercise-from-home, do-everything-from-home, you may have developed a habit of phone scrolling or even working from bed. You may have done it for comfort, because your bed is way cozier than your kitchen island, or you may have done it out of necessity, because your partner was on conference calls in the living room. But, yeah, it’s time to quit that. “It is also helpful when you use your sleep space only for sleep or relaxing activities,” says Brooklyn-based licensed mental health counselor Lawrence Lovell

Introduce — and Maintain — Some Bedtime Rituals

Community health psychologist Jameta Barlow, Ph.D., of Washington, D.C., shares her own routine with her group therapy clients. “I spray lavender on my pillows each evening for a peaceful, restful sleep,” says Dr. Barlow, who also keeps a lavender plant in her bedroom and showers and drinks chamomile tea before heading to bed. “In short,” she says, “rituals help.”

Doing a restorative nightly yoga flow could be part of that. Meditation could prove beneficial, as well. If you want to give the latter a go, Manoj Dias, the cofounder of the meditation platform Open and a breathwork instructor, recommends finding a comfortable spot on a chair, cushion, or couch; taking deep breaths and noticing your breath leaving your body; asking yourself, “Where am I feeling disconnected in my life? Where do I want to feel more connected?”; and then just allowing yourself to feel, letting those answers arise intuitively without questioning or judging them. 

Still Can’t Fall Asleep? Try These Tricks

Even if you’ve done all of the above, there will still be times when you just can’t stop your mind from racing while you’re lying horizontally in the dark. It sucks. But luckily, experts also have some secrets for dealing with that. 

Stock Your Nightstand with a Notepad

If your mind keeps adding to your mental to-do list even while you’re trying to turn it off and get some ZZZs, your best bet isn’t to ignore those racing thoughts. “Keep a notepad next to the bed, and jot everything down,” suggests Dr. Jiang. That way, you’re making a plan to address what’s bothering you in the morning, since there’s likely nothing you can do at 11 p.m. anyway!

Dr. Mattox says this brain dump strategy also works if it’s more ruminations than a to-do list keeping you up. “Jot down the matters of your heart or whatever is weighing you down most heavily,” she says. “Then you decide what to do with it: Rip it up. Tuck it away until you are rested. … Just leave it there and never return to examine it.”

Go Somewhere Peaceful — in Your Head

Want to distract your mind to help the snoozes come? First, the bad news: Dr. Mattox says that counting sheep is likely a myth that “may actually contribute to longer times to get to sleep.” Womp, womp. So instead, she encourages clients to imagine themselves in tranquil scenes, like near a waterfall or at the beach. 

Ground Yourself in Your Room

On the flip side, you can also slow your mind down and practice mindfulness by actively noting your sleep environment, says Dr. Jiang. “Instead of focusing on the anxious thoughts, notice your pillow, notice the darkness of the room, notice your sheets and blankets,” she says. “What do they feel like? Are they cool? Hot? Heavy? Light?”

There’s a reason we’re told to take a deep breath when we’re feeling especially tense: “Deep breathing tends to activate your parasympathetic system and signal to your anxious part of your body that you’re safe,” Dr. Mattox says. 

If you want to take the deep breath concept to bed, Dr. Mattox recommends what she calls progressive relaxation and breathing imagery visualization exercises. “For me, this pairs breathwork with guided imagery to redirect my mind and relax my body,” she explains. 

To try it, lie on your bed with your eyes closed, Dr. Mattox says, and “think about it with this script: Imagine the path that your breath takes [within your body] with attention to how your body feels. Then picture the air you’re breathing out being the vehicle used to wash out fear, anxiety, and tension. Exhale. While breathing out, imagine the stress of the day leaving you. Imagine the air that you are breathing in as a ray of sunshine bursting through a cloudy day or refreshing, rhythmic waves of calmness.” Start out by practicing this for five to 10 minutes, then work your way up to longer.

If all of the above fails, Dr. Jiang says that staying in bed may not be helpful. “If you are wide awake, get out of bed and do something boring not involving screens,” she says, meaning “not watching an exciting movie or reading a murder mystery.” Keep the lights low, too, so that you don’t wind yourself up too much. 

One idea for what your activity could be, courtesy of Dr. Mattox: decluttering. “A clutter-free, organized space can help decrease anxiety,” she says, so “get up, have a glass of milk, and declutter for five to 10 minutes, or do something else that leads to organization until you get sleepy.” 

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.

The Anatomy of the Perfect Bedroom, According to Sleep Experts

The Anatomy of the Perfect Bedroom, According to Sleep Experts

Strong sleep hygiene means engaging in practices that encourage consistent, uninterrupted snoozing. And Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, and Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, says that includes how you design — and what you do inside — your bedroom. “Sleep is a performance activity, much like running, and if you run in your new shoes, with the right gear and music, you will likely perform better,” he explains. “The same holds true with sleep; if you have the right equipment and the right environment, you will probably sleep better.” 

So make no mistake: Your bedroom can have a huge impact on how well you sleep at night. “Creating a peaceful and calming sleep environment … helps you to get that deeper, more quality sleep that we all strive for,” says physician and certified sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, M.D. “And [it] makes it easier to make the transition from sleep to wakefulness.” 

Curious what elements are essential to an excellent environment for ZZZs? From tips for keeping distracting lights at bay to cooling bedding ideas and more, here’s how experts say you can create the ideal bedroom for a good night’s sleep.

Whether it’s morning sunlight streaming in from your windows or the blue light from your smartphone screen, Dr. Holliday-Bell says too much light in your bedroom can wreak havoc on your slumber schedule. “Part of the way that our bodies prepare us for sleep is by releasing melatonin, which is a naturally occurring hormone produced in our brain to signal to our bodies that it’s time for sleep and allow us to make the transition from wakefulness,” she explains. “The blue wavelength of light has a significant effect on our natural melatonin by suppressing the release, sometimes by hours, making it much more difficult to transition to sleep when it’s time.” 

To ensure your room stays as dark as possible throughout the night, Dr. Holliday-Bell recommends hanging blackout curtains in your windows to help keep sunlight from streaming into your bedroom, and wearing a blackout sleep mask to bed to help block out any ambient light coming from inside the room.

“It’s also important to avoid all electronics, including television, smartphones, and laptops, one hour prior to bedtime, so that the blue light emitted from these electronics isn’t interfering with your melatonin release,” she says. “You can also use blue light filtering glasses one to two hours before bedtime, and many smartphones now come with a built-in blue light filter that can be programmed to turn on at a certain time.”

If you live on a busy street, close to a train, or have a loud roommate who stays up late, Dr. Breus says that incorporating sound-quelling elements into your bedroom can help you score more restful sleep at night. “Whether it’s background noise or a snoring bed partner, sound can disrupt sleep,” he explains. “A white noise machine can help block out loud noises and create a quiet and peaceful sleep environment.” 

To reduce the amount of outside noise that enters your bedroom, start by sealing off any gaps or cracks around your windows with good old-fashioned weather tape. You can also insulate your walls with sound-absorbing acoustic panels, upholstered wallpaper, or large bookcases to help soften loud noises and vibrations so you can sleep more soundly. 

Lower the Temps (Just Enough)

You don’t want your bedroom to be too hot and humid or too frigid. Obviously preferences vary by person; the Cleveland Clinic and the Sleep Foundation both cite 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit as the ideal sleep temp range for adults.

No air conditioning in your bedroom? No problem. Cooling floor fans and portable AC units are surprisingly affordable and easy to come by. “You can also use cooling pillows to help keep your body temp down,” Dr. Holliday-Bell says.  

Spring for a Comfortable Mattress

According to the Sleep Foundation, using a mattress that provides enough comfort and support is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep.  While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the perfect mattress for your unique shuteye needs, Dr. Holliday-Bell says your preferred sleeping position can play a big part. “Generally speaking, if you’re a stomach sleeper, you should generally go for a firmer feel so that you don’t sink in and put too much pressure on your lower back,” she explains. “If you’re a back sleeper, you should go for a medium firm feel so that the back is supported enough without putting too much tension on the upper back and shoulders. Side sleepers tend to do better with medium soft mattresses as the softness helps to relieve the pressure points from the shoulders and hips.” 

If you have a bed mate who tends to toss and turn in their sleep, Dr. Holliday-Bell says you should also keep that in mind when shopping for a mattress. “You may want to consider a motion isolation mattress if the movement bothers you,” she explains. “And if you find yourself needing to sleep on multiple pillows at night, you might want a mattress that allows you to adjust angles such as the head and foot of the bed.”

Use Cushy Bed Coverings 

Few things send you off to slumberland faster than a bed dressed in buttery smooth bed linens, which is why Dr. Holliday-Bell says it’s important to invest in bedding that’s soft and comfortable to sleep in. “Generally speaking, when it comes to bedsheets, the higher the thread count, the softer the sheets,” she says. However, a sky-high thread count doesn’t necessarily translate to sky-high quality, and Dr. Holliday-Bell points out that “thread counts that are too high can actually make you hot, so it is recommended to stay somewhere between a 400 to 600 thread count.”  

Beyond the thread count, Dr. Holliday-Bell says you should take into account the materials your bed coverings are made of, especially if you run hot or cold while you sleep. “If you tend to run hot, then a light, breathable fabric such as cotton or linen would be more ideal,” she says. “If you tend to run cool, you can consider ones composed of denser weaves, like satin.” 

Messy bedrooms can trigger feelings of alertness and anxiety, so Salma Patel, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine recommends keeping your sleep space as clean and organized as possible. “Piles of unfinished laundry, visible to-do lists, and other forms of clutter can be stimulating,” she warns. “They remind you of work that needs to be done, which can make it harder to fall asleep.”

To free your bedroom of unnecessary visual clutter and create a more serene sleeping space, start by clearing all the surfaces of decorative items, like artwork, candles, lamps, pictures, and trinket trays. Then, only add back pieces that provide a specific function or purpose. This way, your bedroom will still supply pops of visual interest without hindering your sleep quality. 

Maintain a Designated Shuteye Space

Whether you’re eating dinner or working from home in bed, Dr. Janet Kennedy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor says using your bedroom for non-snooze-related purposes can make it harder to fall asleep. “Keep work out of the bedroom or at least sequestered to a specific area,” she advises. “The idea is to feel relieved and pleased to get to go to bed, and being reminded of daytime activities while you’re in your bedroom can make it harder to get into sleep mode.” 

If your bedroom doubles as a home office, or you live in an open studio apartment, consider sectioning off your bed zone with a room divider or ceiling-mounted curtains to indicate a dedicated sleeping space. Other division options include canopy bed curtains, folding screens, and tall bookcases with open shelves. 

Apartment Therapy’s Healthy Home Issue was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Dyson.

Caroline Biggs

Contributor

Caroline is a writer living in New York City. When she’s not covering art, interiors, and celebrity lifestyles, she’s usually buying sneakers, eating cupcakes, or hanging with her rescue bunnies, Daisy and Daffodil.