Physical space doesn’t cure arthritis, but healing elements can be incorporated into all aspects of the built environment. Places such as hospitals can be designed to reduce stress, improve mood, speed healing and reduce pain.

Numerous studies show that noise reduction, views of nature, sunlight, social spaces and places for contemplation accelerate healing and reduce pain medication dosages. This is good not only for patients, families and staff, but also for hospitals’ bottom lines, because patients recover sooner and require less care and drugs.

Designs for Healing

In an exciting and far-reaching plan, the American Institute of Architects this year launched an initiative to make health a goal in green design of spaces, including health care facilities, schools, office buildings and cities. In this 21st century vision, designers become partners with health care professionals in maintaining physical and emotional health and preventing disease.

You can make your own home or office more relaxing by adding live plants, silk flowers, or pictures of a favorite place, for example.

And if you find yourself in a stressful place that you can’t change, you can do what I recently did at an airport while waiting for my delayed flight to arrive. As I watched the seagulls circling over the tarmac where my plane should have been, I allowed my mind to drift to the seagulls that circled those cliffs of Crete, and my feelings shifted from stress to calm.

Esther M. Sternberg, MD, rheumatologist and researcher, is the author of Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being (Harvard University Press, 2009).