How Indoor Plants Can Improve Well-Being

When we think of houseplants, it often has to do with aesthetic purposes. But are there any health benefits they can provide?

The beneficial properties of nature have been studied widely — apart from cooling the region, it is known that green spaces can have a positive effect on mental health. While potted plants are far from a park or a meadow, research says they can also have a similar effect.

"It has also been established that plants confer positive changes in the brain's electrical activity, muscle tension, and heart activity," Danica-Lea Larcombe of Edith Cowan University writes in the Conversation.

Research has also found that women who are more exposed to vegetation, either outdoors or indoors, have a lower mortality rate compared to their counterparts. This included lower rates of respiratory disease-related mortality and cancer mortality by 34 percent and 13 percent respectively.

Many people have said that simply looking at the color green helps induce a relaxing and calming mood. The benefit is not only perceived as hospital patients who were around indoor plants have also been found to have lower levels of blood pressure, pain, anxiety, and fatigue.

The sense of sight aside, fragrances can also have an impact on mood. Floral scents such as those of lavender and jasmine have been found to induce tranquility.

Taking up gardening on a small indoor scale could provide benefits similar to horticultural therapy i.e. when gardening is used as a form of therapy. This active interaction with indoor plants, even if it involves something as simple as watering potted flowers every day, can help adults recover from work-related stress.

It has also been suggested that their presence may improve indoor air quality too. One well-known NASA experiment from 1989 found that plants could help eradicate volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

"The Boston fern is one of the most effective plants for removing airborne pollutants, but it is often difficult to grow indoors," Bill Wolverton, a former NASA research scientist who worked on the study, told TIME. "I usually recommend the golden pothos as my first choice, since it is a popular plant and easy to grow."

However, experts are divided on this one — the extent to which indoor plants can actually "detoxify" the air varies from place to place. While the study was performed in a controlled laboratory setting, it is not easy to measure levels of airborne contaminants in our homes.  

You should also make sure to choose the right plant if you would like a bit of green in your bedroom since they release carbon dioxide at night. As NBC News notes, some good options are orchids, succulents, snake plant, and bromeliads, all of which release oxygen.