Houseplants Improve Health and Well-Being
By Kenneth A. Gruskin, AIA
Research estimates a person spends 85-percent of life indoors. Obtaining meaningful access to visible and physical “natural” and “green” outdoor spaces is a challenge for people who live and work in urban environments. Nature’s therapeutic benefits are lost. For those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, not being able to venture beyond known “safe” spaces and locations can severely limit the opportunities to take advantage of the nurturing and healing potential of the natural environment and participate in ecotherapy.
Incorporating indoor plants into your living and workspaces is a research-proven way to experience many of the same benefits one receives outdoors in nature. NASA’s 1989 Clean Air Study discovered that indoor plants purify the air, removing contaminants by depositing them into the soil via their root system where microorganisms convert volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into nourishment for the greenery.
The following are some of the top reasons and health benefits for incorporating plants into your indoor environment:
Reduce Stress, Fatigue, and Improve Mood
A University of Technology Sydney (UTS) workplace study found that staff with one or more plants in their work environment had significant reductions of:
Whereas the control group without indoor plants showed the opposite effect, with negativity increasing 20 percent to 40 percent.
In other research, keeping flowers in the home or office has been shown to increase happiness and reduce the likelihood of depression.
What to do: Keep fresh-cut flowers and flowering plants in highly visible locations. Bayer Advanced recommends one 8-inch diameter pot or larger per 129 square feet of space. Position the plants, so all the people utilizing the space have a clear view of at least one of them.
Plants to Consider: Anthuriums, Bromeliads, Chamomile, Chrysanthemums, Geraniums, Orchids, Snake plants, your favorite cut flowers. Potted lavender is one of the best-known anxiety fighters, and its scent also adds the bonus of providing some aromatherapy.
Clean the Air: Plants act as nature’s air cleaner, and they also produce pure oxygen. Research shows that toxins present in most households are linked to depression and anxiety. The EPA has also found that the air in our homes is often more polluted than the air outside. Indoor air pollution can increase a person’s risk of stroke by 34-percent, ischemic heart disease by 26-percent, and lung cancer by 6-percent.
What to do: According to NASA, to improve the air quality of an indoor environment, ideally, you should have one plant for every 100 square feet of space.
Plants to consider: Aloe Vera, Bamboo Palm, Boston fern, Dragon tree, English Ivy, Gerbera Daisy, Peace lilies (which are particularly good for cigarette smoke), Philodendron, Rosemary spiral plants, Snake Plant, Spider plant, Weeping Fig.
Sleep Better: Proper sleep is another factor in our well-being and psychological health. Putting plants in the bedroom can help scrub the air of toxins and, if you select the appropriate plants, release oxygen while you sleep. Select some plants that give off oxygen at night rather than carbon dioxide. Get some overnight aromatherapy by placing a plant like lavender near your bed. Aloe Vera, Areca Palm, English Ivy, Gerbera Daisies, Jasmine, and Snake plant are all good for the bedroom.
Improve Your Mental Health: Being a caretaker for a plant can also provide positive feelings of empowerment and boost a person’s confidence, which is the underlying theory behind horticultural therapy.
A microbe found in the soil is believed to be a natural antidepressant. When you work with the soil to repot a plant, Mycobacterium vaccae is released and breathed into the body. Coupled with the release of the feel-good hormone serotonin (which is triggered by the activity of caring for the plant), promotes mindfulness. Don’t be afraid to care for and nurture plants. Get your hands in the dirt.
Plant Considerations: For plants to be healthy and thrive, including the people and pets in the spaces with them, be sure to consider your plant selections for home or work carefully. If you have a cat or dog in your workspace with your houseplants, make sure to select plants that are not harmful. The Humane Society and the ASPCA maintain lists of plants that can be poisonous to pets, and in some situations, to specific animal species.
If you (or others living and working with you) have allergies or are sensitive to dust, for example, you may need to select plants that do not cause irritations or aggravate a sensitivity. The plants require ongoing care and attention, some more than others. They typically require specific environmental conditions such as particular temperature ranges, humidity levels, and the need for different quantities of daylight or shade. Indoor plants can be beneficial for everyone.
For those who are limited by their PTSD and cannot comfortably access or move through outdoor green spaces, gardens, parks, and other natural environments like forests and wilderness, bringing houseplants into their home or office can yield tremendous therapeutic benefits for them, their families, and loved ones.
Kenneth A. Gruskin AIA is the principal of the Gruskin Group.