Your Healthiest Self

Environmental Wellness Toolkit

What surrounds you each day in your home, work, or neighborhood and the resources available to you can affect your health. You can’t always choose what’s in the environments you live, work, or play in. But taking small steps to make your environments safer and limiting your exposure to potentially harmful substances can help keep you healthier. Flip each card below for checklists on how to improve your health in different areas. Click on the images to read articles about each topic. You can also print the checklists separately or all together to share with others or as a reminder to yourself.

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7 strategies for improving your environmental health

Make your home healthier

Illustration of a dad holding a mop and reading the label on a bottle of cleaning fluid in a kitchen

Take a look around your home. Do you know what’s in your household goods and products? Some chemicals can harm your health if too much gets into your body. Becoming aware of potentially harmful substances and clearing them out can help keep you and your family healthy.

To reduce potential toxins in your home:

  • Clean with “Safer Choice” or non-toxic products.
  • Dust using a damp rag.
  • Use a wet mop to clean floors.
  • Vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Open a window or use a fan to improve air circulation when you’re cleaning.
  • Have and maintain a good ventilation system in your home.
  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands often.

Reduce your allergies

Illustration of cat sitting on a windowsill looking out at trees, flowers, and specks of pollen

A change in season can brighten your days with vibrant new colors. But blooming flowers and falling leaves can usher in more than beautiful backdrops. Airborne substances that irritate your nose can blow in with the weather. When sneezing, itchy eyes, or a runny nose suddenly appears, allergies may be to blame. Take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens.

To reduce allergies:

  • Avoid outdoor allergens whenever possible. If pollen counts are high, stay inside with the windows closed and use the air conditioning.
  • Avoid bringing pollen indoors. If you go outside, wash your hair and clothing when you come inside. Pets can also bring in pollen, so clean them too.
  • Reduce indoor allergens. Keep humidity levels low in the home to keep dust mites and mold under control.
  • Avoid upholstered furniture and carpets because they harbor allergens.
  • Wash your bedding in hot water once a week.
  • Vacuum the floors once a week.
  • Talk with your doctor about medications and allergy shots.

Stay safe during hot weather

Illustration of sun surrounded by fresh produce, sun protection gear and people having fun outdoors

Heat is the biggest danger in the summer months. Being hot for too long can cause many illnesses, some of which can be deadly. But the warmer weather also brings lots of new opportunities to improve your health. Here’s how to make the most of the summer months.

To create healthy summer habits:

  • Beat the sun and heat with an early morning or evening activity.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as hats, long-sleeve shirts, and long pants or skirts.
  • Use sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, preferably 30, and reapply frequently.
  • Use sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB.
  • Try to stay in the shade when outdoors during peak sunlight.
  • Go to an air-conditioned gym, do water workouts, or use a fitness video at home.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.

Guard against cold weather

Illustration of a happy older person and child bundled up in wintry outerwear on a snowy day

The frosty air of winter can be invigorating. But cold air can also pose threats to your health, whether you’re indoors or outside. Learn to recognize the signs of your body temperature dropping too low, and take steps to keep yourself and your family warm and safe during the chilly season.

To guard against the cold:

  • Dress in layers.
  • Cover up with blankets.
  • If you expect to be out in the wind, rain, or snow, wear a jacket with a waterproof and windproof outer shell.
  • To keep warm at home, wear socks, slippers, and a cap or hat.
  • Set your heat at 68° or higher when it’s cold outside. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you’re not using.
  • If you need help paying your home heating bills, you may qualify for an energy assistance program.
  • If you suspect that someone you know or love may be at risk of hypothermia, take quick action to warm them up with blankets and warm drinks, but avoid hot-water baths and heating pads.

Air quality and your health

Illustration of a man running indoors on a treadmill, with traffic visible through window

The combination of high temperatures, few winds and breezes, pollution, and airborne particles can brew up an unhealthful mixture in the air, just waiting to enter your lungs. These substances can make it hard to breathe and can sap your energy. If the air quality is especially poor, it may take a few days for your body to recover. And if you’re regularly exposed to high levels of unhealthy air, the health consequences can linger for months or even years.

To reduce the effects of poor quality air on your health:

  • Avoid outdoor activities in the afternoons on warmer days, when the risk of air pollution is highest.
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities if the air is polluted. Check your region’s air quality index, which is often reported in the local news. Orange and red mean it’s a bad air day and that children and adults with respiratory diseases should avoid the outdoors. Purple and maroon mean air pollution is extreme and everyone should try to stay inside.
  • Consider reducing the time and intensity of your workout, if you want to exercise outside on days when you’re at risk. The best way to reduce exposure to outdoor air is to exercise indoors.

Stay safe in the water

Illustration of a No Swimming sign at the beach

Summer is a great time to go out and have fun in the water. But recreational waters—including swimming pools, lakes, and oceans—can sometimes get contaminated with bacteria and viruses. Swimming in contaminated water can make you and your family sick. But you can take steps to stay safer while playing in the water.

To stay safer while playing in the water:

  • Shower before and after going into a swimming pool.
  • Stay out of the water if you’ve had diarrhea in the last two weeks to help protect others from infectious germs.
  • Try not to swallow recreational water.
  • Avoid swimming or playing near places where storm water is released on the beach.
  • Stay out of the water for at least 24 hours after a storm.
  • Always wash your hands before you eat or drink.

Test for toxic gases

Illustration of swirling gas seeping from the ground into a basement and throughout a home

Radon gas typically moves up through the ground and comes into homes through cracks in floors, walls, and foundations. Sometimes it enters the home through well water. Whatever the source, your home can trap radon inside, where it can build up. You might not be able to see or smell radon, but it can still harm you—slowly, and in ways that you can’t detect.

To fight radon:

  • Start by testing your home. You can do it yourself or hire a professional.
  • If you find a radon problem in your home, take steps to fix it.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking is an especially serious health risk when combined with radon.
  • Get help for your radon questions at this national hotline: 1-800-55RADON (557-2366).

Want to learn more?

NIH scientists study how both indoor and outdoor environmental exposures, toxins, and allergy-inducing substances impact your health and well-being. Read more resources from the NIH institutes advancing research in these areas.

More resources about environmental wellness »

This page last reviewed on September 5, 2018