We’ve all heard the typical ways to improve our brain health: exercise, eat healthier, and be sure to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But did you know evidence suggests surrounding yourself with indoor plants can boost your brain function as well? Many people are turning to houseplants for their wellness benefits–to reduce stress and improve productivity levels. So what does science have to say about their brain-boosting abilities?
“There are several well-regarded studies regarding the ability of houseplants to help purify the very air we breathe, improve brain function, and enhance our mental well-being,” says Andrew Gaumond, horticulturist and botanist at Petal Republic.
Gaumond points to a 1989 study carried out by NASA known as the Clean Air Study, which explored the use of indoor plants to purify the air in NASA’s space stations. Researchers tested a variety of plants to understand their ability to remove toxic pollutants from the air. Many of these chemicals have the potential to decrease brain function and include:
The NASA study concluded that several indoor plants could remove these well-known chemicals from the air, thus purifying the air and improving brain health. Since the original study, some scientists have questioned the findings, noting that the small, confined space where NASA conducted the research is inconsistent with the standard home or office. Critics suggest you would need many indoor plants in your home to gain any noticeable air-purifying effects.
Although the air-purifying qualities of indoor plants remain debated, Gaumond added that “horticultural therapy, defined as caring for and nurturing houseplants, has numerous associated mental health benefits.” He explains that horticultural therapy can “help plant owners reconnect with nature in their homes, which is proven to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, along with improving our attention spans and boosting self-esteem.”
With so many indoor plants available, how do you know which ones to choose? Here are our top 3 recommendations for indoor plants that can boost brain health.
The snake plant is unique due to its ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen overnight rather than only during the daytime, like most other plants. Its oxygen-boosting capabilities reduce headaches and encourage deep sleep, contributing to higher levels of productivity. The plant may also remove formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and xylene from the air, further contributing to brain health.
The snake plant is excellent for people new to owning a houseplant since it is a relatively low maintenance plant. The plant can handle a variety of different light conditions but has a preference for indirect light. The snake plant doesn’t require frequent watering, and Gaumond adds that it “looks stunning as an ornamental centerpiece throughout the home or office.”
In NASA’s study, the bamboo palm was extremely effective at filtering formaldehyde from the air, suggesting the plant may improve memory and concentration. The plant produces more oxygen than most other houseplants, boosting energy and enhancing brain function.
Bamboo palms are relatively easy to take care of, similar to the snake plant. They prefer low, indirect sunlight and only require water once the soil has completely dried out. Gaumond notes that the bamboo palm is “a rapid grower and takes up a fair amount of space once it starts to mature.”
The Boston fern is one of the top-researched plants for brain health. The houseplant is frequently used in phytoremediation to clean up contaminated soil, air, and water. It may even be effective in purifying the air by removing formaldehyde and xylene, increasing alertness and concentration.
The Boston fern requires more frequent watering than the snake plant or bamboo palm, but similarly, prefers indirect sunlight. Since the plant thrives in high humidity, it requires a little extra attention during the winter months. “Boston ferns are one of the most popular ornamental ferns for the home as they work great in both hanging planters and regular pots around the house,” says Gaumond.
For maximum brain-boosting benefits, consider adding a variety of indoor plants to your home or office. In the process, you may even discover a knack for gardening. Learn more about the health benefits of gardening.
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