Being surrounded by beauty enriches our lives. One of the simplest ways to bring more beauty into your home environment is with flowers and plants. In fact, research conducted at Harvard Medical School, known as the Home Ecology of Flowers study, found that the presence of fresh cut flowers in the home helped people feel more compassionate, less anxious, and less depressed.
Flowers abound at The Kensington Sierra Madre, where we have patios and spaces to bird watch, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. We love to create beautiful spaces and environments for our residents — and as the Harvard study shows, there’s an enormous benefit beyond beauty: flowers and plants are one of the simplest ways to boost mental health.
Leafy Greens: Food and Food for Thought
Plants support our health in numerous ways. We know how important it is to include lots of leafy greens in our diet. Placing plants around the house helps our minds as much as eating greens helps our bodies.
Because we spend so much more time indoors than our ancestors did, we’ve lost touch with nature, which helps regulate our biological clock — and our mood. By bringing nature indoors, we help regain this balance.
Studies show contact with plants is “an intuitive, nonverbal activity that can provide psychological stability and comfort by stimulating four senses in various ways.”
- Lower systolic blood pressure
- Lower levels of anxiety during recovery from surgery
- Increase attentiveness
- Improve well-being
- Improve reaction times
- Improve perceptions of the space
Some of these benefits are obvious: placing the right plants in one’s living space means a senior is likely to feel calmer, heal with less anxiety, and be sharper behind the wheel.
Houseplants That Help Your Mental and Physical Health
Houseplants also help purify the air by giving off oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, indoor air can be three to five times more polluted than the air outside! Some plants even detoxify specific chemicals.
Indoor air pollution, like all toxins, creates chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the root of all disease, and initiates a domino effect: it causes the liver to work much harder than it should, elevating liver enzymes and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical health challenges typically create stress and anxiety. So keeping indoor air quality healthy is critical for a senior’s physical and mental wellbeing.
NASA even conducted a Clean Air Study to find effective ways to detox the air in the space station — and discovered the amazing purifying powers of simple houseplants.
Here are half a dozen of the best plants to keep your mood and your home environment healthy and serene:
- Aloe Vera. Besides hydrating senior skin and supporting immune function, this versatile plant rids the home of benzene (from oven cleaners and furniture polish) and formaldehyde (present in everything from particle board furniture to permanent press fabrics; known carcinogen and respiratory toxicant.) NASA also considered Golden Pothos an excellent plant for eliminating formaldehyde — and it’s very easy to grow, even for a senior without a green thumb.
- Lavender. Like aloe vera, lavender is a multipurpose plant for health and beauty. A member of the mint family, it’s highly soothing and will help reduce restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia, as well as calm upset stomachs and headaches. Lavender can be used as a filler in an eye pillow or sachet, made into an aromatic tea, added to desserts, or simply placed in a vase to adorn your bedroom nightstand and bring sweet dreams.
- Peace Lily. Another potent air purifier, Peace Lily filters benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene (a cancer-causing refrigerant), xylene (expelled in car exhaust, paints and cigarettes), toluene (found in disinfectants and adhesives), and ammonia. Breathing such solvents can cause a host of symptoms; removing these toxins from your environment will help support your mental health.
- English Ivy. Found growing in gardens or on the sides of houses, English Ivy is a natural dust and mold filter, which makes it ideal for people who live in damp locations, or who have seasonal allergies. Your mood will improve when you’re breathing easily again.
- Spider Plant. This is one kind of spider you’ll want to have around. NASA found Spider plants removed both formaldehyde and deadly carbon monoxide. They also regularly send out “spiderettes”, which grow into baby spider plants that you can re-pot. Mental health benefits: research reveals people are happier and more relaxed after doing a little indoor gardening.
- Snake Plant. The Snake is your bedtime best friend: it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen during the night, making it the perfect drug-free sleep aid. Snake plant is also edible, with leaves brimming in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, calcium, and magnesium.
How Do Plants Help People with Dementia?
Plants are also an excellent mental health remedy for people with memory deficits and Alzheimer’s disease. “Dementia gardens,” often constructed in memory care communities, help people with memory loss feel better. Not only that, they actually function as a therapeutic, non-pharmaceutical intervention that can reduce dementia symptoms, enhance appetite, boost energy levels, and promote better sleep, all of which improve quality of life.
And while medicinal plants have been less commonly used for treating Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline in Western culture than in other healing traditions, there’s a breakthrough on the horizon.
Salk Institute scientists recently identified a potent neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory chemical compound in Yerba Santa (Spanish for “holy herb”), a plant native to California. This discovery may yield a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease on the order of magnitude of aspirin and digitalis, two other globally revered health panaceas that are plant-derived.
Indigenous peoples have long used Yerba Santa medicinally to treat respiratory ailments, fever, headaches, sore muscles and rheumatoid arthritis. Now, researchers have identified Yerba Santa’s most active component, sterubin, which appears to have a positive effect (in mice) on the misfolded proteins and inflammation characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first step towards a promising new Alzheimer’s treatment.