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Simple ways to make your home healthier

Your house can affect your weight, your mental state, and your cancer risk. Prevention magazine shows you how to give your home a checkup.
/ Source: TODAY

Home is where the heart is — and where health starts. From carpets and wall colors to window shades and overhead lighting, your house can play a role in how much you weigh, your mood, even your cancer risk. Prevention magazine pulls back the curtains, peeks into the cabinets, and takes a hard look at what's lurking in a typical American home. Rosemary Ellis, editorial director of Prevention, visits the home of the Noble family of Bethlehem, Pa. — John and Lynn and their teenage children, Casey and Bailey. The “Today” show walks through the Nobles’ living room and kitchen with Ellis as she gives them a room-by-room fix-it guide. Here’s how you can give your household Prevention’s home checkup:

Living room:

Family Photos
Family photos can give you an instant mood boost.When moms look at picture of their children (but not of others), emotional parts of their brain — the amygdala and insula — light up on MRIs, reports a National Institutes of Health study.In the study, the moms looked at photos of their own children, friends of their children, unfamiliar children, and unfamiliar adults. The pics of their own kids were the only ones that triggered brain areas responsible for the attachment, protectiveness, and empathy associated with motherhood.Also, the prefrontal areas of the brain — related to episodic memory — were stimulated as women looked at their own children, suggesting that they were recalling specific events, and images of times spent with their kids.FlowersKeep a bright bunch of flowers in the room to encourage conversation. Research at Rutgers University found that elevator riders were more likely to be chatty when someone on the lift was carrying flowers. As a centerpiece, a colorful flower arrangement may have the same effect.Plants also bring health benefits — studies link indoor plants to reductions in stress, fatigue, and illness.

Texas A&M researchers found that volunteers who kept a vase of vibrant flowers along with green plants generated more creative ideas than those in an environment lacking vegetation. Kansas State University researchers found that women who are exposed to flowers are less stressed.

Board GamesBoard games help stave off dementia and help build family bonds.Keep games visible to cut your risk of watching too much television. Excessive TV watching has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. (To further curb viewing, Prevention recommended the Nobles place their TV set in a cabinet with doors.)Playing board games familiarizes young children with letters and numbers, builds hand-eye coordination, and encourages kids of all ages to interact with others. They can be a steppingstone for discussion about almost anything: Strategy games — Monopoly, Life, etc. — are opportunities to talk about not only the game itself, but how it applies to the real world, real problems, etc.Area Rug
Carpeting is a haven for allergens. Wood, tile, or linoleum is best. A low-pile rug is OK too.An area rug is good because it can be vacuumed, washed, and even taken outside for an occasional shake.If you have a wall-to-wall carpet, vacuum at least once a week with a HEPA filter vacuum — it will help eliminate allergens.Steam-clean carpets and rugs every 12 to 18 months to kill dust mites.Look for all-natural rugs labeled “allergy-proof” or “chemical-free” to ensure they won't give off synthetic chemicalsAdditional background on living rooms
Twenty-one percent of adults say watching TV is their favorite leisure activity; 20 percent say spending time with their family.Fifty-one percent of kids surveyed say they live in homes where the TV is left on most or all of the time, whether anyone is watching it or not.Consider “no dust-collecting” blinds. (After all, when was the last time you cleaned yours?) If you can't bear to go bare on your windows, opt for easy-to-wash shades or curtains. And let the light shine in as much as possible.Studies have shown that exposure to natural light can help ease blues, insomnia, PMS, and may even boost concentration.Trade the headache-inducing glare of direct lighting for gentler-on-the-eyes torchieres, wall sconces, or track lights, which diffuse and soften light.Equip your lamps with broad-spectrum bulbs; their light most closely resembles good-for-you daylight.

Kitchen:Choose blue plates and bowls, consider cup and dish sizes

Research suggests that blue and purple serve as appetite suppressants. In tests, people could not bring themselves to eat foods colored blue.People have deeply rooted instincts to avoid blue and purple foods, because they tend to be poisonous in nature. To take advantage of this natural instinct, use blue napkins or place mats and plates as well. You may also want to consider using a blue color scheme in your kitchen and painting the walls, or even one wall, blue.Avoid red, yellow, and orange in the kitchen and dining areas. Those colors have an effect on your autonomic nervous system, which can stimulate your appetite. It's no coincidence that many fast-food logos and restaurant decors use the red end of the color spectrum!Extensive research shows that people eat what is put on their plates — even though it's more than they need to satisfy their hunger. In the “supersize-it” world we live in, it's important that we avoid this exaggeration and use smaller plates. Serve your main course on a 7- to 9-inch salad dish instead of a 10- to 12-inch dinner plate.Use an 8-ounce drinking glass instead of the popular 12- or 16-ounce glasses.Use a 6-ounce coffee cup and 6-ounce juice glasses.Save your 12-ounce glasses for water.Bowl of fruit
Leave a bowl of fruit like oranges or apples out at all times on your kitchen counter or table. Having it there inspires healthy eating and you are less likely to go to your cupboard for the “bad” snacks.  (It's true in our workplace, too, where we now have fruit available in the cafeteria.)Everyone should aim for five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables, per day. (Kids ages 2 through 6 should get five; girls and women need seven; and boys and men need nine.)As for what kind of fruit is the most healthy, your best bet is to aim for a variety of all different colors: this will give you the widest variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs.For example, yellow and orange fruits (bananas, oranges, pineapple, etc.) contain lots of vitamin C and potassium, while red fruits (strawberries, apples, tomatoes) have disease-fighting anthocyanins.Choose whole fruit over fruit juice. Often juice has lots of added sugar. Even if not, whole fruit still has more fiber and will leave you more satisfied.Silicone pot holders
Using a dishtowel as a potholder is a no-no. Dangling edges can easily ignite while you are cooking.For oven use, however, your best bet is to use extra-long oven mitts that will protect hands and your forearms — the kind you would use outside for grilling.Aloe plants & herbsResearch shows that the scent of rosemary boosts alertness. Rosemary also aids digestion and boosts immunity. So it's not just for adding flavor to your dishes.Having an aloe plant in your kitchen is also handy — it contains anti-inflammatories that can soothe minor burns if you forget to use those extra long oven mitts!Fire ExtinguisherAbout 373,000 home fires occur each year; cooking is the main cause, followed by heaters.Every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher.  Keep it in easy reach.  It's also smart to have one in the garage and near the bedrooms.You can find small kitchen-size fire extinguishers at your local hardware store for around $30.Light
According to researchers at the University of California, Irvine, a well-lit kitchen helps prevent over-eating. Dim lighting makes people feel less self-aware, which promotes binge eating.Natural light has also been shown to ease PMS, and may even boost concentration.Additional background on kitchens:Nearly 25 percent of people worldwide spend more time in the kitchen than any other place in the home.One in 10 homeowners remodeled their kitchen in the past 12 months, while one in 20 plans to remodel within the next year.Thirty-five percent use the kitchen regularly for family discussions, 35 percent for socializing and entertaining, 16 percent for hobbies, and 15 percent for playing with their children.

For more tips on how to give your home a checkup, read the complete Prevention article,