We all like a little greenery and know there are benefits of having plants in our homes, but is there more to it? Just what are the health benefits of urban green spaces, and are there certain plants we should be surrounding ourselves with? How can we increase our interactions with nature when we live in hugely urbanised areas?
Our relationship with nature
Having spent hundreds and thousands of years living directly off the earth’s land, it would make sense for humans to naturally gravitate to nature, whether that’s having the odd plant dotted around our homes or needing a walk in nature to clear our heads.
But now, we live in the ultimate age of technology, with screens everywhere and humans trying to make room in their homes for the latest must-have gadget. Being overly connected to technology has been proven to cause increased anxiety, depression, vision problems and hearing loss to name a few. Add the exponential growth of industry to the mix, and we’re concocting a cocktail sure to leave us feeling worse the next day.
Supply and demand in today’s world means factories are churning out products quicker than ever and we’re only just starting to figure out just how much our mass consumption affects things like air quality. Research from King’s College London has shown that higher air pollution days in London are responsible for 251 children or adults being hospitalised for asthma or strokes.
It is becoming increasingly more important for us to remember our natural roots to maintain a connection to nature for the sake of both our physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the planet.
The benefits of greenery in our homes
In research looking into the benefits of plants on mental and physical health, academics have been analysing exactly what it is about nature that helps humans so much. Whether by having a view to it, being able to hear it, or even experiencing subtle changes in air temperature, our increased awareness of nature can improve our psychological relaxation, reduce stress levels, blood pressure levels and heart rates, while stimulating positive social cohesion.
What a lot of us do not know is the benefits the plants we already own offer us. The most basic lesson biology classes teach on the subject is that when we breathe, our bodies take in oxygen and release CO2, which plants then in turn absorb and leads them to release oxygen. The symbiotic relationship we share with plants makes us natural partners.
As well as providing more oxygen for our homes and reducing carbon dioxide levels, our house plants can also increase humidity, which proves particularly beneficial during the summer months when the air can be very dry, and reduce airborne dust levels, keeping respiratory distress at bay. More health benefits include reducing incidences of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs.
According to research by NASA, some houseplants reduce pollutants and can remove up to 87% of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) every 24 hours. This includes formaldehyde, found in rugs, grocery bags and vinyl, trichloroethylene, found in man-made fibres and solvents, and benzene, found in books and printed papers.
So, what can we do?
The answer is simple – add plants to our homes or extend the plant families we already have. There are plenty of plants out there that directly target some of the aforementioned areas. We all just need to know a little more about how to look after them, and where is best to put them around our homes.
Choosing to put plants like Orchids, Gerbera Daisies and Succulents in our bedrooms helps to refresh the air during the night, by taking in CO2 and releasing oxygen. Dragon Trees, Snake Plants and Spider Plants are also great for purifying air in living spaces, and Peace Lilies remove mould from the air in damp areas of our homes.
There are also a variety of house plants that have been proven to alleviate mental illness symptoms. Having Lavender or Jasmine in our bedrooms can help to improve sleep, anxiety and lower heart rates, while Rosemary is another versatile plant that can improve our concentration and memory.
If you want to spare yourself some time in your local grocery shop and really incorporate greenery into your life, it is easier than people think to grow your own vegetables and herbs by buying plant pots for balconies and small courtyard spaces or window boxes for kitchens.
The research, studies and papers are out there with proof that our symbiotic relationship with plant life is one that can flourish, provided we pull our (green) fingers out and work on bringing them into our homes and surrounding urban areas. We can create calming and restorative places in the ever-changing natural landscape, without compromising our physical and mental health.