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Dimensions of Wellness – Part 9: Environmental Wellness

Environmental concerns are frequent topics of conversation, media coverage, and controversy. Our personal responsibility for being environmentally conscientious and considerate does not stop or become any less important as we age. As health care and social services professionals we understand that our environmental interactions, whether public or personal, impact health and well being in a variety of ways. For example, we know that pollution (air, water, land) and conserving finite natural resources (fresh water, forests) and the negative impact of toxins on our quality of life (carcinogens, antibiotics in food, pesticides), and more affect all generations.

As professionals, we need to focus on their risk factors and compromised safety caused by environmental issues. Because age-related physical changes reduce the body’s ability to overcome environmental challenges and adapt, growing older tends to pose additional hazards. As a result, older adults become increasingly vulnerable to acute illness and exacerbate chronic illness. In addition, safety is compromised by environmental factors because older adults are less able to combat contaminants in the air and water, toxic substances in food, and UV radiation. Overall aging changes may expose individuals to greater incidence of injury, higher levels of morbidity and perhaps, premature death.

Environmental Wellness includes:

  • Living a life that is environmentally conscientious.
  • Taking responsibility for decisions that respect the environment and protect self and others (e.g., do not smoke).
  • Understanding the impact environment has on well being, positively and negatively.
  • Reducing the use of, and exposure to, toxic chemicals (e.g., using pesticides, polluting).
  • Taking action to protect the earth for the benefit of future generations (e.g., leaving a legacy of environmental wellness)1,2

While working with older adults, it is important to educate them and their family members about potential harm. Harm may be caused as a result of polluted air and water that threaten cardiovascular health or could exacerbate a chronic condition. Health care costs related to heart disease and stroke is a staggering hundreds of billions of dollars per year!3

The Environmental Protection Agency has developed an ‘Aging Initiative’ focused on raising awareness about hazards to the health of older people. “Educating older adults about second-hand smoke, pollutants, fumes from products, pesticide poisoning may help to enhance wellness, quality of life, and decrease healthcare costs“.4 Professionals may find the following EPA recommendations helpful. These strategies are intended to help educate older adults about reducing environmental hazards that may impact heart disease, stroke, COPD, diabetes and other climate sensitive health problems.

Strategies to control heart disease and stroke:

  • Spend less time outdoors when Air Quality is poor.
  • Minimize exposure to smoke – cigarette & wood-burning.
  • Ensure proper ventilation and take frequent fresh air breaks when painting indoors.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide – use exhaust fans and never leave vehicles running in a garage.
  • Seek air conditioned area to prevent heat stress; check medications – some may add to heat stress.
  • Drink water – run water 30 seconds before drinking and consider a filter system to remove chemicals, etc.5

Along with educating older adults about the environmental impact on their health and wellness consider ways to encouraging them to be good stewards of the environment. Remind them that we are all responsible to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. The following are a few additional tips you might suggest:

  • Turn off water tap – stop unnecessary water flow.
  • Turn off electrical appliances when not in use – unplug to conserve and save money.
  • Do your part to recycle and purchase recycled/biodegradable goods products.
  • Go green and use more “green” cleaning supplies and natural pesticides.

Recommended Resource – Evelyn’s Pick

Environmental Protection AgencyAging Initiative. Provides facts sheets and information about protecting the environmental health of older adults. 


  1. Definition of Wellness: Environmental Wellness.
  2. Environmental Wellness. Wellness Center University of California San Diego.
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading Causes of Death and Prevention Research Centers: Cardiovascular Health.
  4. Environmental Protection Agency – Aging Initiative
  5. EPA – Aging Initiative. Reduce your exposure to contaminates. Help control heart disease and stroke.

GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

For more information:

Go to the Senior Health health topic.