The sensitivity to environmental influences depends on, among other things, the life phase a person is in.

Young versus old

Environmental factors, such as high or low temperatures and poor air quality, can cause problems more quickly for elderly people than younger people, in particular in terms of asthma and COPD in older people. Older people spend more time indoors than younger people and are therefore exposed more to substances which are typical for the indoor environment, such as radon and dust mite allergies. Having said that, they will be exposed less frequently to, for example, sunlight.

What is more, people's needs as regards the organisation of the living environment are different in each life phase. Elderly people will more frequently need safe walking routes and numerous benches to sit on, while families with children will benefit more from play areas and younger people will use green areas to play football, skate or as a place to meet. The requirements for a healthy organisation of the living environment are, therefore, not the same in each life phase.

A healthy life cycle means that someone spends many or all phases of his life in good health and well-being. A healthy life cycle also means that someone can participate in society in all the phases of his life.

Date last amended: 24 November 2015

One thing leads to another

The life cycle approach assumes that what a person experiences in one phase of his life can have an effect on, or continues to influence, his health, well-being and participation in subsequent phases in life. This means (un)healthy behaviour, obesity, high blood pressure, the proximity of recreation and play facilities. After all, changes in weight during a child's early years can affect blood pressure and cholesterol values during and after puberty.

The living environment contributes to the healthy life cycle

Numerous factors influence a healthy life cycle. One of these is a healthy living environment. It is not just about there being a living environment which encourages people to lead a healthy lifestyle, or protect those people against illness or accidents. It is also about making sure that neighbourhoods are properly accessible so that vulnerable groups of people can participate in society, while taking account of the wishes and preferences of the residents themselves. A final important element is the development of small-scale types of care in the neighbourhood which can help keep health care costs down.

Gardening for young and old

Generation gardens are an example of how the living environment can be organised in a way that is favourable for young and old. A generation garden is a garden in which elderly people and children from local schools or after-school clubs can meet and work in the gardens together. The garden gives them an opportunity to cultivate vegetables and fruit together, sow flowers and herbs and harvest and eat the produce they have grown. It is a way for children to learn, among other things, where food comes from and for lonely elderly people to become less isolated. The first generation garden was created in The Hague, but others can now be found at numerous different places. The installation of gym equipment outdoors is also a way of ensuring that people from all kinds of age categories can meet, exercise and relax together.

date last amended: 24 November 2015


In some phases in life people are more sensitive to the health effects of certain factors than in others (so-called sensitive periods). One example of this is the sensitivity of an unborn baby to drinking beer or wine, or the mother's smoking habit. Smoking during pregnancy is known to contribute to a low weight at birth. It may be that the eventual health effects of a sensitive period are also determined by factors present in the life phases after the sensitive period.

An example of a domino effect is that smoking for 20 years has a more negative effect on someone's health than, for example, smoking for 2 years. The negative effect of smoking on someone's health therefore stacks or adds up over all the phases of the life cycle. The clustering of risk factors or risk behaviour (for example smoking and drinking) during the life cycle is another example of a domino effect.

date last amended: 24 November 2015