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9 ways plants can boost health and wellbeing

By George Hadgelias

Just like an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a home filled with lush greenery can do all sorts of amazing things for your physical and mental health.

Injecting your home with plants is about so much more than creating an Instagram-worthy abode: It’s about crafting a space that makes you feel welcomed, refreshed and connected to nature.

“We have an innate desire, even if watered down, to connect with nature,” says Gavin Cole, Psychology and Horticulture Academic at ACS Distance Education.

“When we are able to do this, we feel better, are healthier, and lead more productive lives.”

Below, we look at nine incredible ways plants in the home can improve your overall health.

1. Stress less

Although more research is needed in this area, prior studies would indicate that the presence of plants in our homes and working environments can help us to recover from stress and fatigue.

“Having greenery around us has been linked with lowered blood pressure and blood toxin levels, enhanced cognitive performance and memory, as well as recovery from stress-related health complaints,” Gavin explains.

“Natural environments are seen as restorative. That is, they allow people to change to more positive cognitive, emotional and behavioural states and are calming for physiological arousal.”

2. Breathe easy

Gavin reveals that plants have an incredible ability to filter out dangerous toxins, which in turn improves air quality. Plants are hard workers, however, because as they’re doing this, they’re also reducing the carbon monoxide in the air and producing fresh oxygen for us to breathe.

“Plants are also known to help filter harmful toxins from the air both indoors (think cooking fumes and chemicals released from paints and glues) and outdoors (carbon monoxide from car fumes and gases released by industry).”

3. Assist asthmatics

A lesser-known benefit to plants is that they can actually remove dust particles from the air we breathe, which asthmatics know can be triggering.

“Plants trap larger airborne particles of dust in their leaf hairs to prevent the dust from entering their pores. This particular dust is often linked to all sorts of respiratory diseases, so in this way, plants act as natural air filters,” says Gavin.

It’s worth noting, however, that some asthmatics and allergy sufferers can be triggered by pollen, and so it would be wise to consider plants that produce little to none of the stuff.

Gavin suggests looking out for female, or gynoecious, plants which don’t bear pollen. Think holly, bay trees, date palms, poplars and junipers.

4. Improved sleep

“The mere presence of plants has a calming effect which helps to lower anxiety symptoms and stress levels,” says Gavin, adding:

“This in itself is likely to help people sleep more easily and perhaps to enjoy a better quality slumber.”

In addition, the scent of some plants is known to enhance sleep. Take lavender for example. “It’s associated with promoting drowsiness and a restful sleep and so is often found in pillows and pouches and used in aromatherapy.”

5. Keep cool

Plants in the form of green walls and roofs have other benefits to human health by their direct correlation to improving the environment and reducing our footprint. “With less carbon dioxide floating around, we can help to slow climate change,” says Gavin.

Urban areas are notably warmer than more rural regions. Roads, pavements, roofs and walls can conduct heat and leave the air temperature around us considerably higher.

“Plants on walls and roofs absorb heat and reduce temperatures. This not only acts as insulation, keeping us cooler in summer and warmer in winter with less reliance on heating and cooling, but also reduces heat-related health problems like exhaustion and heat stroke.

“It’s important because these are two conditions that have the greatest impact upon children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health complications,” Gavin explains.

6. Increased life expectancy

A recent Harvard study conducted over an eight-year period found that women specifically who surrounded themselves with lush greenery had significantly lower mortality rates than those who didn’t – 12% lower, to be exact.

In addition to a number of benefits, which included increased opportunity for social engagement, higher physical activity and lower exposure to air pollution, the plants were also found to improve participants’ mental health.

“Improved mental health, measured through lower levels of depression, was estimated to explain nearly 30% of the benefit from living around greater vegetation,” reads the study’s author.

This brings us to…

7. Live happier

There’s been a myriad of studies in recent years suggesting that indoor plants and greenery around the home can improve a person’s mental health exponentially.

Another study in the Netherlands found that residents in areas where there was a greater amount of green space within a 1km radius had a lower prevalence rate for 15 of 24 diseases.

“The findings were most compelling for depression and anxiety,” says Gavin. “Other notable improvements were in the incidence of heart disease, chronic back and neck pain, migraine, and diabetes.”

8. Stronger for longer

The age-old adage ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ rings true when it comes to maintaining your green space. “Many mental health problems are exacerbated by physical conditions and vice versa,” says Gavin.

“In the elderly, gardening can be used to exercise and strengthen muscles in different parts of the body. The mere movements can reactivate and strengthen damaged tissues, improve mobility and slow down deterioration caused through degenerative diseases.”

Physical benefits also include enhanced fine motor skills, increased muscle strength and tone, a larger range of motion, and improved coordination and balance.

The best part? These benefits apply to gardeners of any age!

9. Health properties when consumed or applied

“While some people are sceptical of the benefits of what we call medicinal herbs, many others swear by them,” Gavin tells.

“Since herbs have been used for such a long time it is difficult to deny their usefulness. In fact, many synthetic medicines have been created to mimic compounds found in plants.

“The proper processing of herbs for medicinal purposes is complex and beyond the skills of the average home gardener, but there are many herbs which are relatively easy to grow and safe for most people to use.”

Some of these include:

Chamomile – treats chest colds, inflammation of gums, tooth abscesses, soothe skin conditions, antibacterial

Echinacea – fights symptoms of cold and influenza, relieves sinus problems, soothes gum inflammations, treats infections

Garlic – antibacterial, reduces blood pressure, aids breathing

Ginger – settles stomach, anti-inflammatory, lowers cholesterol, reduces blood toxins, treats colds

Lavender – relaxant, aids sleep, antibacterial, antiseptic, aids skin conditions, relieves pain

Lemon – antibacterial, soothes colds and influenza symptoms, assists immune system

Lemon Balm – relaxant, calms nerves, alleviates headaches, treats cold sores and viruses

Peppermint – aids with digestion, relieves headaches, soothes pain

Rosemary – lowers blood pressure, improves concentration, reduces fatigue, aids hair and scalp health

Thyme – decongestant, soothes sore throats, treatment of coughs and colds, diarrhoea, antiseptic, treatment of cuts

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