Last week after my article 5 Benefits of Being Outdoors was published, I received an e-mail asking, but what about the benefits of bringing the outdoors inside for those who are stuck in an office for many hours a day or are physically incapable of getting outside? To answer that, I turned to two sources, NASA, who has spent years studying the effects plants have on air quality and other ways to make the air clean, and Tyler Davis, Nursery Merchant Manager for Live Goods at Orchard Supply Hardware.
NASA reports that in the late 1960s, an environmental scientist working with the U.S. military discovered that swamp plants were eliminating Agent Orange near the Eglin Air Force Base. From then on, plants have been used to clean water, and eventually, plants were introduced to indoor spaces to help reduce the amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (known as VOCs) and to help make the air cleaner for humans, since plants breathe in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen (the reverse of what humans do).
NASA’s Clean Air Study is often cited when discussing the power of plants in cleaning the air, but as Healthline points out, NASA’s “research was done in a highly controlled space, and your home would need about 680 plants for the same effect.” But Healthline does say plants can contribute to you feeling sick less often, can boost your mood, provide horiiculture therapy (for more on that see my article on the Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Gardening). and think better and smarter.
Davis said it is so easy to bring the outdoors inside by buying anything green and growing. In an interview with HuffPost, he said, “Many people work 9 to 5 or 8 to 8. People eat at their desks for their lunch breaks, so they don’t go outdoors.” Davis suggests the quickest and easiest way to add some color to your cubicle or office is with cut flowers.
But if you want something longer lasting, Davis suggests flowering houseplants like the bromeliad or the African violet (just remember to water the violet from underneath by setting the pot in some water). “A lot of plants can survive in office settings,” Davis adds. “Tropical foliage plants do well under fluorescent lighting...and snake plants, a succulent, are ideal for people who work in the dark.” (Or for those who prefer to use their computers without overhead lighting.)
Davis also said terrariums are making a comeback. He has one on his desk that looks like a miniature landscape. “Terrariums do well in offices because they are enclosed so they take very little water, compared to a tropical or houseplant.”
Zen gardens that are commercially available from gift stores can also bring a bit of the outdoors inside, though because they are sand, they do not do the same air purification and oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange that plants do so they lack these benefits.
And if, for some reason, none of these options are viable for your home or office space, you can also bring a little outdoors indoors by incorporating photos of nature as your computer’s background or screen saver or in artwork nearby wherever you spend most of your time. Dr. Marc Berman and his team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that when people took a 10 minute-break in a quiet room and looked at photos of nature, their cognitive performance improved.
Of course for maximum health and well-being benefits plus to add color, you could create a space that has a combination of nature photos, live plants and cut flowers.