11 Healing Benefits of Indoor Plants For Your Mental and Physical Health
Intuitively, we all know that being in nature is good for our health and wellbeing.
But few of us, today, are making deliberate efforts to benefit from the therapeutic effects of nature.
Today, you’re going to discover the healing powers of plants and how can you use them to improve your mental and physical health.
Ready? Roll your sleeves up and let’s get to work!
The Human-Nature Relationship
For as long as we have been around, nature has allowed us to survive. It gave us shelter, food, clothes and even healed us physically. We basically depended on nature for our existence.
However, as urbanization continues to swallow up Earth’s ecosystem, our relationship with nature continues to decline.
Sadly, we’re becoming more and more aligned with technology and indoors than with nature.
In fact, kids today only spend an average of 4–7 minutes outdoors compared to an average of 7½ hours on electronics. (1)
Mental Health, Stress and Nature
Mental health can be detrimentally life-changing. Depression and anxiety alone cost the USA around $210 billion a year.
One of the main precursors to mental health problems is stress. In fact, the World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, stress will be the biggest contributor to disease.
Today, we predominantly became an indoor-living species. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors – that is less than half a day a week spent outside.
There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that there’s a connection between the increase in stress levels and the decline of our relationship with nature.
In fact, nature helps to activate our parasympathetic nervous system – the body’s natural means of de-stressing.
Healing Properties of Plants
Nature has long been proved to have a healing and restorative impact on us. Most of the studies looked at the correlation between spending time in nature, and emotional and physical health.
The studies showed many benefits including improved immunity, better sleep, reduced levels of stress, depression and anxiety, and increased feelings of happiness.
In fact, the Netherlands government predicts a saving of over €65 million a year on the healthcare budget by investing in green space in its cities.
While we all could resolve to get outside more and spend time in nature, the likelihood of this becoming a staple part of our everyday life would be unlikely for most due to lack of time, weather, motivation etc.
Fortunately, studies show that even bringing nature indoors has a similar impact on our wellbeing as spending time in nature.
The benefits of having plants indoors are multifaceted and are split into four distinct categories; environmental, physiological, cognitive, and emotional.
1. Environmental Benefits
#1. Improving Air Quality
During photosynthesis, with the help of light and water, plants take in carbon dioxide and turn it into fuel for themselves while releasing oxygen into the air as a waste product.
Their photosynthetic ability helps to maintain steady levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
By bringing plants indoors, you can improve the air quality in your home.
When it comes to keeping plants in the bedroom, many people believe that it may be harmful because at night plants may respire as humans do, emitting carbon dioxide at night as a reverse response to photosynthesis. But studies show that humans and pets produce more CO2 than plants do.
The carbon dioxide that emanates from plants at night is actually relatively harmless in small amounts. This makes plants great even for the bedroom.
#2. Natural Humidifier
Living in centrally heated and air-conditioned buildings can cause dryness which has been linked to colds and flu-like symptoms.
Plants have been shown to increase the humidity in a room by up to 15 per cent thanks to transpiration – the process of water movement from plant’s roots to its leaves, where it eventually evaporated into the air.
The best humidifying plants include the areca palm (Dypsislutescens) and elephant ear (Alocasia).
#3. Purifying the Air
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, which are found in common household products like air freshener, detergents, paint, glue and nail varnish, as well as in office supplies including printer ink, are thought to contribute to general ill health.
NASA, whilst looking into ways to clean the air in space stations, concluded that plants in sealed chambers were good at reducing VOCs from the air.
The strongest plants in reducing VOCs in the air are Boston fern, devil’s ivy and snake plants.
While proper ventilation is the best way to improve air quality, plants have air purifying qualities, that however modest, can make a significant impact.
A study conducted by Lohr and Pearson-Mims to explore the impact of indoor foliage on air quality, shows that foliage plants such as Elephant Ear and Ferns have helped reduce dust and other airborne debris in rooms by up to 20 per cent, with the effect being most pronounced when plants were placed around the edges of a room.
#5. Filtering Noise Pollution
Just as carpets and soft furnishings can muffle sound, it has been proven that plants help reduce noise pollution indoors too.
2. Psychological Benefits
#6. Increases Immunity
Getting sick less and feelings less sick all of the time, is especially beneficial for our productivity and wellbeing.
According to a study conducted by Fjeld, T. (2000) interiors rich in plants showed a decrease in signs of discomfort – including fatigue, headaches, dry eyes, sore throats and itchy skin, by up to 25 per cent.
Plants are shown to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with relaxation and restoration.
#7. Stress Reliever
Even though much of the health benefits are largely down to the improvements plants make to the air quality, they’re also tied up with the effect plants have on suppressing our autonomic nervous system activity, which in turn, helps us feel physically and emotionally less stressed.
The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. This system is the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response. (source Wikipedia)
The overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a decreased immune function, damaged cardiovascular system leading to premature heart attacks, and negative psychological symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
Numerous studies have examined the stress-reducing qualities of plants. These studies show significantly lower levels of cortisol in the blood – the body’s main stress hormone.
Other studies show that patients recover faster after surgery and require less pain medication, when the window of their hospital room has a green view.
Plants seem to have a calming effect on us and tasks become less stress-inducing when carried out in a room with plants.
3. Cognitive Benefits
#8. Improves Cognitive Ability and Concentration
A number of studies involving school children show improved performance of fundamental tasks of spelling and arithmetic and increased attention in classrooms that contained plants.
#9. Boosts Creativity and Problem Solving
It is not just our cognitive ability and concentration that is increased through plants, but our creativity and ability to think out of the box.
A 2004 study showed that adding plants to the workplace improved creativity and problem solving by 15 per cent on average.
Given these benefits, it seems that adding plants isn’t just ideal for our living space, but also for our working space.
4. Emotional Benefits
#10. Happiness and Mood-Boosting Benefits
There are countless studies proving that plants not only help us to feel less anxious and depressed, but can also improve our mood.
In one study workers were asked to record their levels of happiness. 60 per cent of people in offices without plants reported feeling ‘content’ compared to 69 per cent of those in offices with plants, but no windows. This rose to 89 per cent in offices which had both plants and a view of greenery – a difference of 29 per cent compared to offices without plants.
#11. Boosts Feelings of ‘Self-Mastery’
One study shows that actively engaging with plants and taking care of them can boost our perception that we are in control of our lives and social cohesion.
This helps people take more responsibility for themselves and the environment around them.
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Top Tips for Creating a Restorative Environment at Home
1. Go All Natural
Instead of using expensive artworks to decorate your living space, use plants. If you want to go a step further, try using natural materials such as wood, organic fabrics and stone for plant pots.
2. Plants With A Purpose
Choose plants with properties that will foster the atmosphere you want to create in each room.
For example, for rooms with poor ventilation, choose plants that are effective at purifying the air (Boston fern, devil’s ivy and snake plants).
Place humidifying plants (areca palm (Dypsislutescens) and elephant ear (Alocasia)) next to radiators or close to your bed.
3. Make It Personal
Draw on memories and positive feelings when choosing your plants.
For example, if your parents used to grow Aloe and you associate this with positive memories, buy some Aloe.
Look at images of different landscapes and ask yourself where you would most like to live. Forest? Desert? Mountains? Seaside? Rainforest? Choose a corresponding plant style.
We love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Wondering what to read next?
- How to Treat Your Anxiety Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- How to Treat Depression Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- Self-Loathing: How to Stop Self-Hatred and Start Loving Yourself?
- Overcome Social Anxiety: How to Defeat Social Anxiety and Create Confidence?
- Raising low self-esteem: 18 Ways to Build High Self-Esteem
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book Plant Therapy, © 2020 by Katie Cooper. All rights reserved.