This World Wellbeing Week we at Leapfrog are talking about the benefits of bringing the outside in. Even the least green-fingered of us likes to open a bunch of flowers or a plant and busy ourselves trimming stems, topping up vases and arranging them in sunny spots in the house. Having flowers and greenery at home or in the office brightens mood as well as the room, and now the scientific evidence is mounting that bringing elements of nature indoors can profoundly impact our well-being, physical health, and happiness.
Here are just some of the benefits that our botanical companions can offer:
The stress reduction theory proposes that viewing scenery and environments containing natural elements such as greenery or water triggers innate and automatic emotions of pleasure and calm that reduce stress (1). The theory is supported by a number of studies highlighting the stress-reducing benefits of being surrounded by natural environments. For example, in a hospital environment one study found that patients reported lower stress levels when plants, or even posters of plants, were present in the waiting room (2). Another study focused on the workplace found that office workers exposed to a bunch of roses decreased their biological markers of stress and increased feelings of relaxation and comfort (3). So don’t wait for your office crush to do it, treat yourself to a bunch of flowers for your desk to help keep work stress at bay...
At home, the act of tending to houseplants and flowers has also been found to reduce stress. Researchers behind a study observing 24 young male adults found that transplanting an indoor plant lead to them feeling more comfortable and soothed compared to carrying out a computer task. Interacting with plants also decreased physiological stress symptoms by lowering blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity (the system that increases the stressed state of the body) (4). Therefore, giving yourself the time to care for houseplants or tend to flowers can actually help protect against the development of chronic stress.
In addition to reducing stress, surrounding ourselves with plants has been found to increase our happiness and life satisfaction. A number of studies have identified increases in self-esteem, positive effects on mood, emotions in behaviour, and a reduction in anger as a result of interacting with nature (5). Natural environments have also been used in interventions to treat depression, and studies demonstrate that depressed patients who attended CBT in a botanical garden setting experienced greater alleviation of depressive symptoms compared to those treated in a hospital setting (6). Try adding a few pot plants to your home or workspace, and feel the instant uplift in your mood.
Exposure to plants and the natural world can improve our physiological health as well as our psychological health. Remarkably, studies have revealed that plants can speed up the recovery process, with patients with views of natural settings from their hospital rooms experiencing shorter hospital stays post-surgery and requiring fewer painkillers (7). Even in our everyday lives, there are profound effects of greenery on our health, particularly in relation to indoor air quality. Scientists have posited the dangerous levels of air pollutants in modern air-tight constructions as one of the priority concerns for human health today as people in industrialised countries spend more than 80% of their lives indoors (8). Luckily, our leafy allies can once again come to the rescue and improve indoor air quality by simultaneously taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into our atmosphere via photosynthesis. Indoor plants that are particularly air-purifying include areca palms, snake plants, spider plants and aloe vera (we love succulent plants like the one below in the Leapfrog office - reminding us of sunnier climes abroad!). Instead of buying a costly air purifier, head to your local garden centre and embrace the more affordable and stylish alternative of these green companions.
IMPROVING COGNITIVE ABILITIES
It has been suggested that the air-purifying quality of plants is not only important for our health; purer air can actually improve productivity and attention by reducing allergies, asthma, drowsiness, irritation, and eye problems (5). In fact, there is a whole field of literature suggesting that more natural environments can positively impact cognitive abilities such as attention and working memory.
The Attention Restoration Theory states that viewing natural environments improves our attentional abilities as natural stimuli including plants softly grab our attention in a bottom-up manner that gives our directed attentional abilities a chance to recover. This theory has been supported by experiments showing that walking in, or even just viewing, nature improves performance on tasks that require directed attention (9), and that viewing plants significantly decreases theta brain waves associated with low concentration and attention (10).
The profound impact of plants and flowers on our well-being cannot be overstated. They reduce stress levels, increase a sense of relaxation and happiness, purify the air we breathe and help us think clearer. Embracing the trend of decorating your home with greenery is therefore not only a design choice but also a wellness one too. And don't forget Leapfrog is also on hand to help alleviate stress: if you want to naturally reduce your cortisol levels and increase your flow of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, then chew a Leapfrog SNOOZE or two to calm a firing mind.
By Phoebe Lund Newlyn