Interacting with houseplants does this for the mind and body

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This might explain why houseplants are so popular again.

It’s often been suggested that talking to one’s plants is good for the plants. But what if we have it all backwards; what if it is the humans who benefit from these little chit-chats? If you think about it, that the sound of our voice may help plants is pretty anthropocentric. They’ve been thriving forever without us, but we could not exist without them.

We rely on plants for their gifts of oxygen and food, for starters. But exposure to them – from spending time in nature to having a few houseplants – also does incredible things for our health and well-being. This is especially well illustrated by a study that was published a few years ago in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology.

The researchers set the stage for the paper by introducing this simple but profound truth:

“The living space of modern people has moved from outdoors to indoors – more than 85% of a person’s daily life is spent indoors.”

They explain that a life indoors is made increasingly possible thanks to advances in information technology, which allows us to “connect and remain connected to the computer environment,” as they put it. Or, as I put it, which allows us to work, socialize, learn, shop, and entertain ourselves … without ever having to step foot outside.

“However, this diffusion of information technology causes a great deal of stress, such as technostress,” the authors explain, “which is a modern disease of adaptation caused by an inability to cope with the new computer technologies in a healthy manner.”

Uhm, does that ring a bell for anyone?

So, enter the plants. There has been plenty of research looking at the health benefits of nature and houseplants as well. Indoor plants have been a popular topic of study and have been found to enhance job satisfaction in the office, reduce psychological stress, improve moods, and enhance cognitive health. These effects can positively affect resistance to diseases and chronic stress, explain the authors, but few studies have examined the actual physiological mechanisms that are at play.

Thus, the research team decided to look at the physiological benefits of indoor plants in modern people, focusing on the cardiovascular changes that happen when a person interacts with a plant. They measured autonomic nerve system activity, as well as quantifying the psychological changes during the contact with plants.

touching a houseplant© Jumeli

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