Just breathe: Indoor plants, their impact on your health


FEATURE – The average person, at rest, breathes in 11,000 liters (388 cubic feet) of air each day. Those who exercise consume even more. This means that every month, we breathe more than 1.5 times the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool through our lungs.

Aloe vera
Aloe vera

The quality of that air can have a profound effect on our health, mental clarity and overall well-being. Mother Nature has provided the perfect solution for feeding our constant need for pure fresh air, and that solution is plants.

We all learned in school the symbiotic nature of our carbon dioxide exchange with green, growing things, and their continual replenishing of our oxygen supply. We’ve all observed someone’s face light up at seeing a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers. We’ve all felt the relaxation that happens when we take in a deep breath of fragrant herbs or blossoms. The health benefits of plants touch us on every level. Their effects on our lives are physical, emotional, psychological; even spiritual.

Intuitively, humans seek out nature to restore their senses and recharge their batteries. The term for this attraction is biofilia, which literally means, “love of life or living systems.” Think about how important trees, grasses, shrubs and flowers are to our enjoyment when we visit a park, play a round of golf or hike in the mountains. Plant life is often the determining factor in whether a place is considered beautiful or not.

Gerber daisy
Gerber daisy

Unfortunately, most of us don’t get to spend the majority of our time in the great outdoors. What happens to the quality of our air when we spend most of our time inside? Does that affect our health and well-being? NASA scientist B.C. Wolverton said it perfectly: “Since man’s existence on Earth depends upon a life support system involving an intricate relationship with plants and their associated microorganisms, it should be obvious that when he attempts to isolate himself in tightly sealed buildings away from this ecological system, problems will arise… The answer to these problems is obvious. If man is to move into closed environments, on Earth or in space, he must take along nature’s life support system.”

Problems with indoor air quality can be insidious because they are largely invisible. The EPA released the following statement in relation to these invisible pollutants, volatile organic compounds, and their effect on indoor air quality: “VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to 10 times) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.”

The EPA also found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas. In addition to re-oxygenating the air we breathe, plants actually “scrub” the air, filtering and cleaning harmful VOCs. They add humidity, release chemicals that reduce mold spores and bacteria in the ambient air and neutralize free radicals.

Golden pothos
Golden pothos

When rooms are properly planted (for the sake of maximized air quality, “properly planted” is defined as one plant of a 10-inch pot size per 800 cubic feet of living space), we can expect to enjoy not only the beauty that living things have to offer us, but the greater health benefits they provide.

NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America began studying house plants as a way to purify indoor air in the late 1980‘s; further supporting research was later published in the Journal of American Society of Horticultural Science. A rundown of the 15 healthiest house plants is provided here by the Mother Nature Network.

So go get your green on, and breathe easy!

Niki Warner
Niki Warner

Written by Niki Warner for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.

Warner is the co-founder and CEO of Botanicals, Inc. She is a master gardener, fourth-generation greenhouse grower and self-described plant geek. Contact her at [email protected].

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1 Comment

  • Matt Ringer October 30, 2013 at 10:29 am

    A solution for poor indoor air quality, an all-natural paint additive has been developed that converts any newly painted wall surface, into a permanent air, purification system. Air-ReNu’s, award winning technology maintains healthy indoor air quality and eliminates unpleasant pet or smoking odors. One treatment will keep your home smelling fresh and clean for 10-12 years

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