Psychoanalysts, with John Locke inclusive agrees that humans are influenced by environmental factors. This understanding brings to bear the relationship between man and his environment, otherwise call ecology. Ecology is the branch of science that deals with the relationship of organisms with one another and with their physical surroundings. For the surroundings to be habitable for all creatures to co-exist in harmony, man must therefore play the lead by purging himself of dirt through the instrumentality of environmental education.
The environment in your neighborhood and surrounding community has a huge impact on your health and lifespan. Where you live determines how safe your drinking water is, whether you have access to healthy food, how often you get outdoors to exercise and whether you breathe clean air.
In fact, studies found that social factors, like your physical environment and quality of support services, account for most deaths globally. That is, people living in dilapidated neighborhoods with fewer public services, safe spaces and supportive social networks are more likely to suffer poor health and premature death.
Public health officials are always looking for ways to close the health gap, to no avail. However, there are plenty of smaller things you and I can start doing to help make your neighborhood healthier. There are not limited to the underlisted:
- Grow healthy food
Garden-fresh fruits and vegetables grown naturally in your backyard with homemade compost and without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are more nutritious than refrigerated produce shipped from long distances. Less reliance on transportation also means lower fossil-fuel use and fewer carbon emissions that cause health-harming climate change. Also ask local grocery stores, restaurants and schools to offer more healthy food and drink options.
- Make your community more walkable and bikeable.
Each hour you spend in a car per day corresponds with a 6 percent increase in your odds of becoming obese. Obesity is linked to many chronic and deadly diseases. Too many vehicles on the road also leads to stressful traffic congestion, unhealthy greenhouse-gas emissions and accidents that injure and kill people and animals.
- Shop local
Buying from businesses in your community doesn’t just help them thrive, it also helps you and your neighbors in a number of health-promoting ways. For one thing, if stores are nearby you can walk or bike there, improving your physical fitness and reducing car use. When shops are close and goods aren’t shipped from far away you minimize traffic jams, energy consumption, carbon emissions and habitat loss from sprawl. In addition, supporting community merchants strengthens the local economy, which in turn improves the health of your neighborhood and saves lives. Lower income and economic insecurity is widely linked to poorer health and lower mental well-being.
- Test tap water
The lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in third world countries, is a sorry reminder of how essential clean water is for human health. If you and your neighbors get water from a public water system, you may feel reassured by the water-quality report you receive each time. All public water agencies are required by law to list contaminant levels, including heavy metals and pathogens. If your community relies on private wells, periodic testing is even more important because well water isn’t regulated.
- Reduce neighborhood waste
Litter isn’t just unsightly, it’s also dangerous for kids, wildlife and everybody else in your neighborhood. Improperly discarded cigarette butts, old tires, junk food wrappers, plastic soda rings, beer cans, chemicals and other trash can hurt or kill animals, start fires, promote harmful bacteria and clog stormwater drains (which causes flooding and contaminates groundwater).
Pick up trash when you see it or organize regular neighborhood cleanups. Start a compost pile in your yard instead of dumping food scraps and yard waste in the garbage, or set up a community compost center. Composting not only transforms waste into healthy nutrient-rich soil for your yard and garden, but it also cuts greenhouse gas emissions from the breakdown of organic matter in landfills and from fuel used to transport waste.
- Plant trees
Besides absorbing air pollutants and carbon dioxide, protecting against climate change and providing oxygen, trees add to the health of humans, wildlife and neighborhoods in many additional ways. Plant trees in your yard (preferably native varieties adapted to soil and climate conditions) and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Consider organizing a community tree-planting project. Many cities and tree organizations like National Wildlife Federation’s Trees for Life program give away free seedlings to groups. For details on the importance of tree planting and climate change, visit www.pponline.com.ng
- Opt for natural, organic lawn care
A beautiful yard may give your home curb appeal, but it can also exact a steep environmental price. In some developed countries, over 70 million tons of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used for lawns and gardens every year, which can seep into groundwater and run off into rivers and streams.
Eco-friendly lawn care helps protect the environment and the health of your neighborhood. Stop using synthetic pesticides and herbicides in favor of organic alternatives, use homemade compost to fertilize naturally, plant drought-resistant grass and other native plants that don’t need as much water, and mow with an electric or push mower. Get your neighbors on board and you’ll make a bigger collective impact.
- Encourage development of parks and outdoor spaces
Nature, trees and undeveloped fields and forests are good for your body and mind, according to several studies. It’s not just that they encourage you to get outside and move. Being in nature also cuts blood pressure, lowers the body-damaging impact of stress and promotes psychological well-being. Hospital patients who have a view of trees even tolerate pain better and go home faster.
Team up with community leaders to preserve green spaces, create parks, and establish more outdoor recreational areas.
- Green the tiny spaces too
We all know those spots that could become real community assets with a little effort. Create a bigger rain garden in your yard to soak up rainwater from your downspouts, and urge your neighbors to follow suit.
- Volunteer in your community
Join a group that’s working to make your community healthier — whether it about providing nutritious meals to older neighbors, fighting poverty or improving the environment in your area. Other ways to get involved include attending municipal meetings, writing letters to community leaders, getting appointed or elected to a town board such as the planning commission, and even running for elective positions. Not only will you be directly involved in decision-making about your community’s growth, open spaces, parks and other services that affect health will be decided by you. Studies has also shown that volunteering also boosts your own physical and mental health. All the more reason to encourage your neighbors to get involved too.
- Clean up your energy use
Installing solar panels on your home allows you to generate electricity without producing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Too expensive? Do a bulk purchase with your neighbors and receive a discount. Most solar companies like allows communities to collectively green their energy use.
- Be neighborly
Research shows that connecting with people around you makes you healthier and boosts your lifespan. Specifically, it is also proven that having a strong social network helps cut stress levels that can harm your immune system, coronary arteries and gut function, plus it elevates stress-busting hormones.
Keep your community even healthier by creating a neighborhood “care watch” committee that provides social services.