By Takuzo Kimura, physiotherapist and volunteer with the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA)
Has your room ever gotten a little messier the week before an important deadline? In Japanese culture, there is a belief that the way someone’s home looks says a lot about their state of mind. The pressures of daily life build up, you feel more stressed, and keeping your home in order might take a back seat. Stress in our mind appears as a mess in our homes.
Let’s zoom out. Our hectic, stressed modern society is creating a mess in our home of homes – planet Earth.
Let’s zoom in. In a sense, our body is the mobile home we live in our whole lives. Throughout our lives, the mess and stress will build up. How do you feel when your body feels out of control, and stressful to live in?
Our internal clean-up crew
Our body has its own maintenance crew to clean messes and repair damages. This crew, known as the immune response, uses a process called inflammation to do their job. You will notice inflammation hard at work when some part of your body gets red, hot, swollen and painful. Those are signs of blood rushing to the area, bringing important cleaning and repair cells. Our blood also carries away dead cells to the spleen for repurposing.
Inflammation is an important response to short-term infections or injuries. It helps keep the body in a healthy state of balance. But if the body is in a constant state of inflammation, the immune response can do more harm than good. An overactive stress response is implicated in many major health issues today – heart disease, lung disease, stroke, diabetes.
I see parallels between inflammation and global warming. Just as our immune response helps maintain a healthy internal balance, the planet has finely-tuned feedback loops to maintain a balanced climate. Our climate has been remarkably stable over the last 10,000 years. But burning fossil fuels and exploiting our environment has led to high levels of greenhouse gases in our air. I liken this to a constant state of inflammation. Bushfires in a hotter, drier climate burn across the landscape red and hot. Air pressure and temperature drops lead to rainfall, swelling up the area with water.
Again, the major health issues of today – lung disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental illness, and more – are made worse by a constantly inflamed planet1. It is almost as if we are a part of nature, not apart from nature!
An elegant treatment (among many)
We are a part of nature, not apart from it. When we take care of nature, our health improves. And if we take care of ourselves, we reduce our burden on nature.
By nurturing this special relationship, we can improve our minds, our bodies and our planet. The science backs this up – and the benefits go beyond self-care:
- Physical activity in your daily life, like cycling to work, has massive benefits for longevity and wellbeing2 and reduces greenhouse gases
- Physical activity in a natural environment has greater benefits to energy levels and mood than physical activity in an urban setting3
- Even getting involved in climate action was shown to improve health, wellbeing, and life satisfaction4
Going back to the Japanese clean room-clear mind belief: have you ever teamed up with your family or roommates to clean an area of the house that was a massive mess? How did you feel afterward? We have the chance of a lifetime to help clean our home of homes: Australia.
Health professionals have a special role in cleaning up our collective home. To find out more, familiarise yourself with the Climate and Health Alliance.
Image by Brett Jordan/Flickr
- Cissé, G., R. McLeman, H. Adams, P. Aldunce, K. Bowen, D. Campbell-Lendrum, S. Clayton, K.L. Ebi, J. Hess, C. Huang, Q. Liu, G. McGregor, J. Semenza, and M.C. Tirado, 2022: Health, Wellbeing, and the Changing Structure of Communities. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
- Vina J, Sanchis‐Gomar F, Martinez‐Bello V, Gomez‐Cabrera MC. Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. British journal of pharmacology. 2012 Sep;167(1):1-2.
- Bowler, D.E., Buyung-Ali, L.M., Knight, T.M. et al. A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health 10, 456 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-10-456
- Netuveli G, Watts P. Pro-environmental behaviours and attitudes are associated with health, wellbeing and life satisfaction in multiple occupancy households in the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Population and Environment. 2020 Mar;41(3):347-71.