This blog post, written with Dr. Grzegorz Bulaj, was first published as a LinkedIn article.
Biophilic design and digital health technologies are evidence-based solutions to improve health outcomes. One enhances our connection with nature, while the other one connects the mind and body with health-focused activities.
Biophilic design aims to create a built environment that emulates the multi-sensory experience of being in nature . Research shows that a visual and non-visual connection with nature can bring diverse health benefits by rebalancing the nervous system. As a result, our mental and physical health improves .
Digital health technologies include mobile apps, video games, and wearables intended to improve mental and physical health through evidence-based self-care activities, education, guidance and biofeedback . All of these modalities aim to support a behavior change to benefit our mind and body. One category of digital health technologies called digital therapeutics (DTx) can even receive FDA authorization to treat specific medical conditions (imagine a mobile app that works as a medication) .
Benefits of biophilic design and digital health technologies can be additive.
Integration of Biophilic Design and Digital Health Technologies
So why not combine the health benefits of both biophilic design and digital health technologies? “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” (H. Keller).
In our peer-reviewed article “Healthy Dwelling”, we described how to create a biophilic home environment fostering disease-specific self-care interventions . The same rationale can be extended to integrate biophilic spaces with disease-specific digital interventions. The main goal of biophilic and digital interventions together is to support health-focused behavior change that leads to a reduction of chronic pain, depression, anxiety and other chronic conditions.
For people who are nature-lovers, tech-lovers, or those who love both, such an integration can expand their portfolio modalities that help to manage or prevent chronic diseases. Think about biophilic and digital combinations as “precision health” that aligns a person’s passions and preferences with their abilities and activities that optimize health outcomes.
In biology, such combinations are called symbiosis. In physics, they are called synergy.
Biophilic and digital interventions offer a “precision health” approach to improve chronic disease management and prevention.
Biophilic+Digital Combinations for Better Health Outcomes
What can biophilic and digital interventions do for a person with chronic pain? Kaia Health is an example of a DTx that guides users through physical exercises designed for specific pain conditions . As shown below, performing these physical exercises on a wooden floor surrounded by indoor plants and natural sunlight while overlooking outdoor green spaces through the window can improve pain relief and management offered by Kaia Health and other mobile medical apps intended to treat pain.
In other words:
BIOPHILIC SPACES + DIGITAL THERAPEUTICS > BIOPHILIC SPACES, or DIGITAL THERAPEUTICS
Multi-sensory experiences of biophilic spaces can enrich psychological and physiological effects of DTx-guided physical exercises and mindfulness meditation.
For people living with anxiety or depression, there are many choices of digital platforms and mobile apps focused on mental health, e.g. Headspace, Calm, ShiftAside, Twill, Deprexis, EndeavorOTC, MindPax, Daylight by Big Health, to name a few. Research studies support benefits of mental mobile apps to increase positive emotions and improve mental health . Since the presence of biophilic elements can lead to stress reduction and increased relaxation , a person who uses a mental health app will also benefit from simultaneously on a lounge chaise, while being surrounded by indoor plants that offer a sense of protection and feeling safe. To learn more about the effects of a connection with nature on mental health, explore our previous LinkedIn article “A Biophilic Home Fostering Mental Health”.
Why and how to create a refuge space for digital interventions
70% of adults in the US say that health-related issues (costs of medications, insurance, medical bills, etc.) are a major cause of stress . In addition, Americans spend on average 90% of their time indoors. To reduce stress and to feel less vulnerable at home while using mental health apps, let’s consider creating a biophilic refuge space to facilitate rebalancing and restoration of the nervous system.
Creating a refuge space involves incorporating natural elements and features that provide a sense of protection, calmness, and relaxation. Here are the essentials - visually lower the height of the designated space, for example, by adding some sort of a canopy overhead (this is where some creativity can create something fun and aesthetically adventurous), add large plants to act as visual protectors, warm woods and a comfortable sofa or chair made of natural organic materials, biophilic art, and varied lighting sources. This is a great opportunity to tune into the design components in the space and ask yourself how you feel about each. Does that sofa hold warm cozy memories, does the art remind you of a place you’ve been or hope to go? Make sure that every element acts as a support that buoys you up.
Here are the components to consider:
Natural Materials: Using natural materials such as wood, stone, flowers and plants creates a calming and soothing environment. These materials bring a sense of the outdoors inside, making the space feel more connected to nature.
Biophilic Patterns: Incorporating patterns that mimic natural elements such as leaves, flowers, and water can help create a sense of tranquility and connection to nature.
Colors: Colors can influence our mood and emotions. Choosing calming colors such as blues, greens, and earth tones can help create a relaxing and peaceful environment.
Lighting: Lighting can have a significant impact on the overall ambiance of a space. Incorporating natural lighting with the use of warm lighting can help create a sense of coziness and comfort.
Views to Nature: Access to natural views such as greenery, water, or natural landscapes can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Comfortable Furniture: Including comfortable and ergonomic furniture such as a chair, sofa, and pillows can help create a cozy and inviting atmosphere.
Acoustics: Controlling the sound within the space through the use of a sound system can help create a more peaceful and relaxing environment. Incorporating natural sounds such as birds chirping or water flowing can also help create a sense of calmness. In our example refuge we have placed a Samsung’s Frame TV that delivers biophilic art and soundscape.
A mood board illustrating a biophilic refuge space offering a multi-sensory experience providing the optimal space to use mental health apps. Essential components not visible in the mood board include aromatherapy and soundscapes. In this design, the soundscape is delivered concurrently with biophilic art via the Frame Smart TV by Samsung and the essential oil diffuser is integrated into the branch sculpture. Design by Dayhouse Studio.
In conclusion, biophilic spaces and digital health technologies can become synergistic partners for improving well-being and health care outcomes. Imagine reducing your stress by sitting in a biophilic room filled with plants, natural light, and essential oils while simultaneously completing therapeutic exercises guided by your smartphone.
We believe that win-win collaborations between health-focused, biophilic interior design companies (e.g. The Well Home, Forest Homes, Dayhouse Studio, etc ) and digital health companies (MedRhythms, Big Health, Welldoc, Huma, Akili Interactive, AppliedVR, Omada Health, Livongo etc) can pivot chronic disease management and prevention.
Can nurturing a connection with nature together with DTx-guided self-care interventions reduce depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, epileptic seizures, migraine headaches, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic medical conditions? To answer this question, future prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies will help.
Grzegorz Bulaj, PhD, Founder of OMNI Self-care
Dorothy Huntsman, Founder of Dayhouse Studio
ABOUT OMNI SELF-CARE
OMNI Self-care is a health promotion and consulting company that creates evidence-based content for marketing the health benefits of self-care. The company provides evidence-based creative solutions for businesses and investors that value sustainable, health-focused growth and living.
ABOUT DAYHOUSE STUDIO
Dayhouse Studio is a health-focused biophilic interior design company, grounded in sustainable practices and evidence-based research to improve well-being. The company offers services for both residential and commercial clients and is developing a product line for health-focused living.
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