fitness · health · season transitions

Caring for houseplants increases longevity and quality of life (or it ought to)

It’s that time of year. By that, I mean, “the time of year that demands doing something, anything, to get through these last vestiges of winter while the spring colors take their own sweet time coming out”. For me, the thing I just did was buy some new houseplants. Here they are, settling in and getting to know the current plant residents of my dining room.

I love them. I pretty much love all plants that make their way to my house. And, with the exception of a gardenia that seemed hell-bent on expiring pronto (which it did), I’ve managed to cultivate long-term relationships with all my indoor plants. I put them in nice sunny places (if that’s what they like), water them, prune when necessary, occasionally fertilize, and appreciate them heartily.

Which raises the questions: what have my plants done for ME lately?

Glad you asked. It turns out that there are studies on the effects of indoor plants on human functioning. In the one meta-analysis I found, researchers found (admittedly scant) evidence that house plants can provide physiological benefits:

…indoor plants can significantly benefit participants’ diastolic blood pressure… and academic achievement… whereas indoor plants also affected participants’ electroencephalography (EEG) α and β waves, attention, and response time, though not significantly. 

That quote was sounding pretty good until the last part– “thought not significantly”. Hmphf. Well, I don’t know about that. Let’s continue the search to vindicate house plant ownership.

Ah, here’s another study, which sounds rock-solid to me. In this experiment, the researchers recruited 24 twenty-something males, asking half of them to do a computer task and the other half to transplant a plant from one pot to another. Here’s a series of photos from their paper to illustrate their study design.

This is science at work, folks! We got your plant pots, your computer with levitating clip board, and participants participating.
This is science at work, folks. We got your plant pots, your computer with levitating clip board, and your participants participating.

Not to leave you all in suspense any longer, the results were as follows:

…the feelings during the transplanting task were different from that during the computer task. The subjects felt comfortable, soothed, and natural after the transplanting task, whereas they felt uncomfortable, awakened, and artificial after the computer task.

Our data support the notion that active interaction with indoor plants can have positive effects on human stress response mediated by cardiovascular activities. These physiological benefits may result from multiple natural stimuli acting on the senses of vision, hearing, touch, and smell.

Well, there you have it. Okay, it’s not saying that house plants will help you live longer or be healthier. But they say good things about having house plants and less good things about doing computer tasks. Yes, we already suspected this, but now science has settled the matter.

In all seriousness, there’s loads of research showing the positive effects on human longevity, health and well-being that green space provides. Here’s a Fast Company article about a 2019 meta-analysis showing that “residential greenness can protect against premature all-cause mortality”.

So, if you’re on the fence about buying some new geraniums for your front porch, or investing in a little succulent garden for a sunny window spot, consider yourself nudged. Or at least feel free to devote a little time to your green friends already residing with you. You’ll be glad you did.

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