Research shows that having plants in areas where you spend time, such as your house and your workspace, can lead to various benefits, such as improving your physical health, contributing to your emotional well-being, and boosting your productivity.
Furthermore, despite the fact that plants can be so beneficial, they generally require relatively few resources, such as time, money, and effort, which further increases their usefulness.
To help you learn more about the topic, the following article will first show you how and why plants can benefit you, and then explain how you can take advantage of their benefits as effectively as possible.
The benefits of plants
There are various benefits to having plants in your home, workspace, or anywhere else where you spend time. Most notably:
- Plants can increase your productivity. For example, one study shows that working in an office that has plants leads people to feel more productive, and makes it easier for them to concentrate on their work.
- Plants can increase your creativity. For example, studies show that keeping a plant within view of your workspace improves performance when working on projects that require creativity, as does general exposure to nature.
- Plants can improve your emotional wellbeing. For example, research suggests that being able to see green vegetation, either from the window near your desk or as you walk through the building where you work, significantly improves your emotional wellbeing.
- Plants can improve your mental health. For example, research shows that living in an area with green spaces leads to better mental health, as evident, among other things, in a reduced likelihood of suffering from depression or anxiety.
- Plants can improve your physical health. For example, the presence of plants in a room can help people cope with pain. This can be important, for example, for patients recovering from surgery, who tend to heal better when they recover in a room with plants, as evident through factors such a shorter hospitalization period, fewer incidents of reported pain, reduced use of pain-relieving medication, less fatigue, and more positive feelings overall. Furthermore, a similar improvement occurs when patients stay in a room with a view of a natural setting.
Note that in many cases, experiencing just one of these benefits initially can eventually lead to other benefits as well. For example, an improvement in your mental health, in the form of reduced stress, can lead to additional benefits, such as improved physical health and increased productivity.
Because of these benefits, together with other benefits such as improved aesthetics, many people choose to grow houseplants, and there is a general push for the use of biophilic design in modern architecture. Such design involves incorporating natural elements, such as plants, into living and working spaces, particularly in urban areas that usually contain few such elements.
Why plants are good for you
There are two main types of mechanisms that can be used to explain the benefits of plants: physical mechanisms and psychological mechanisms. Both types of mechanisms are complex, and not yet fully understood, though this does not negate the plants’ benefits.
For example, when it comes to physical mechanisms, one way in which plants might be beneficial is by reducing indoor air pollution, through the removal of volatile organic compounds, which are recognized as one of the causes of building-related illness (also known as the sick-building syndrome).
However, the viability of this mechanism is controversial, and even if some plants can improve air quality in a substantial manner in some cases, this might depend on various factors, such as what species the plants in question are, how much light they receive, and what is the rate of air circulation in the room where they’re placed.
Similarly, when it comes to psychological mechanisms, there are various psychological theories as to why seeing plants is beneficial.
For example, one such theory is the psycho-evolutionary stress recovery theory, which suggests that “ancestral experiences within natural environments have resulted in better physiological and perhaps psychological adaption to natural vs. built or ‘artificial’ urban environments”.
Under this theory, a natural environment—as opposed to an urban one—increases the positive emotions that people experience, which limits the physiological stress that they feel. This is advantageous from an evolutionary perspective, since an increase in positive feelings is associated with various physical, emotional, and social benefits.
Another notable theory which can be used to explain the benefits of plants is the attention-restoration theory, which suggests that the modern urban environment requires us to constantly pay attention to our surroundings, while picking up on salient details and filtering out unimportant distractors, which extracts a cognitive toll, and causes us to experience mental fatigue.
Under this theory, natural environments are considered to be ‘restorative’, because they allow for relatively automatic engagement of our attention, which is less mentally taxing than an urban environment. As such, exposure to natural elements facilitates rest, and gives our cognitive system a chance to recover from its daily work.
Though there is no consensus regarding which, if any, of these psychological theories provides the best explanation for the positive impact of plants, these theories are similar in many ways, and the differences between them are primarily important for researchers in the field, rather than for those who wish to benefit from plants in practice.
Finally, it’s important to note that physical mechanisms can sometimes lead to psychological benefits, and that psychological mechanisms can sometimes lead to physical benefits. This means, for example, that an improvement in air quality (a physical mechanism) can lead to an improved ability to concentrate (a mental benefit), and that a reduction in stress (a psychological mechanism) can lead to improved physical health.
Overall, plants are beneficial as a result of various physical mechanisms, such as improved air quality, and psychological mechanisms, such as a reduced cognitive load, each of which can lead to a variety of physical and mental benefits. Though the exact mechanisms behind the benefits are not fully understood, what matters most from a practical perspective is to remember that exposure to plants can be beneficial, regardless of the exact reasons why.
How to benefit from having plants
Deciding which plants to pick
Certain types of plants can be more effective than others in certain situations. For example, in some cases, having a combination of flowering plants together with foliage plants can be more beneficial than having foliage plants alone. Similarly, in some cases, having a number of small, green, slightly scented plants can be more beneficial than plants that don’t fall under these criteria.
However, when deciding which plants to pick in your particular situation, you should first consider your goals and preferences, as well as any practical constraints that you might have, such as limited space, a limited budget, and limited time to care for the plants.
Because these factors should be taken into account when deciding which plants to pick, and because of the large degree of individual variability involved when it comes to the benefits of plants, there is no single type of plant that is recommended for everyone under all circumstances.
As such, if you have any specific preferences for plants that you’d like to keep around, you will likely benefit more from having them than from having most types of generally recommended plants. This is particularly true when it comes to making sure that you actually take care of the plants in the long-term.
For example, if you need to choose between a less-recommended plant that you’ll keep and enjoy or a more-recommended plant that you’ll likely end up neglecting, you should go with the one that fits you the most. Similarly, if you need to choose between a lot of plants that will end up dying after a short while, or a single plant that you will be able to take care of, go with the single plant, since in the long term it will produce better benefits than nothing at all.
Finally, note that if you’re getting plants for someone else, you should generally try to get their input on the topic first. This will help you pick the best plants for them, and studies show that when people have input into the choice of which plants they see, they tend to benefit more from having those plants.
Deciding where to put your plants
When it comes to benefiting from plants, it’s important to figure out where’s the best place to put them. When doing this, you should consider relevant factors, such as which benefits you hope to gain from having the plants, how big are the plants you’re planning to get, and what practical constraints you have on their placement.
For example, if your goal is to have a few big plants in order to improve air quality, you might want to spread them around your room, whereas if you just want to have a small plant to look at while you work, you might want to put in on your desk.
Nevertheless, one important guideline is that you need to be able to see the plants in order to experience many of their benefits, which you should keep in mind when deciding on their placement.
Finally, note that in some cases, it might be easier to modify your habits and environment in order to take advantage of plants that are already there. For example, if you can’t have plants indoors, you might want to move your desk next to a window, so that you can see plants that are outside.
Alternatives if you can’t get a real plant
In some cases, getting a real live plant might not be an option for you, for whatever reason. When this happens, there are still some things that you can do in order to get some of the benefits of plants. Specifically, your two main options are to either get fake plastic plants, or to get pictures of plants that you can put somewhere, such as on a poster or on your computer background.
While these won’t have the same benefits as a real plant, research suggests that they can still be beneficial in some ways, so if it comes to choosing between these alternatives or nothing at all, it can be worthwhile to go with them.
In addition, keep in mind that a view of green spaces, such as lawns or trees, is also beneficial, even if you don’t have any plants indoors.
Making the most of your plants
In addition to deciding which plants to pick and where to put them, the way you interact with your plants can also help you make the most of them.
For example, if you got a plant with the goal of having something relaxing to look at in your workroom, then you can decide to actively take breaks after every hour of work, and spend those breaks looking at your plant while thinking relaxing thoughts.
Similarly, if you got a plant with the goal of helping yourself deal with creative challenges, then when you feel that you need to be creative, you can look at your plants while trying to let your mind wander freely.
Summary and conclusions
- Research shows that having plants in areas where you spend time, such as your house and your workspace, can lead to various benefits.
- Common benefits of plants include increased productivity, increased creativity, improved emotional wellbeing, improved mental health, and improved physical health.
- These benefits can be attributed to various physical mechanisms, such as improved air quality, and psychological mechanisms, such as a reduced cognitive load, each of which can lead to a variety of physical and mental benefits.
- When deciding which plants to get and where to place them, you should consider relevant factors, such as your goals for them, your personal preferences, and any practical considerations you might have, such as limited space, a limited budget, and limited time to care for the plants.
- If you can’t keep any real plants for your home or your workspace, you can still benefit to some degree from alternatives, such as plastic plants, pictures of nature, or a view of outside plants.