Many, if not most of us have experienced the calming power of nature. When we feel stressed or overwhelmed going outdoors and smelling the fresh air, looking at trees, shrubs, flowers, the ocean or lake, can actually help lower our blood pressure and encourage the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. But even better than walking in nature, studies show that the actual act of outdoor gardening has even greater multiple benefits. An article on the AARP website, 5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening, lists exposure to vitamin D, a decreased risk of dementia, and mood-boosting as three key benefits of getting outdoors and putting your hands in the dirt.  It is even thought that the nurturing act of caring for plants can increase the level of compassion in an individual.

While many of our clients are able to spend time outdoors, most still spend the majority of their day indoors. But that fact does not need to eliminate the benefits that plants can bring to a senior. Many studies have shown that by bringing plants indoors we can help enhance the health and mood of our elderly patients and clients.

Studies cited by the website Treehugger in 5 Health Benefits of Houseplants support the ideas that growing plants indoors can:

  • Assist breathing by helping to increase oxygen levels in the room.
  • Help deter illness by increasing the humidity indoors which in turn decreases dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs.
  • Clean the air through removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed building. An interesting fact is that NASA grows potted plants inside spaceships. “When talking about the relationship between plants and space travelers, NASA notes that plants ‘provide nourishment for the body when eaten as food, and they improve the quality of indoor air.”
  • Boost healing. “Viewing plants during recovery from surgery led to a significant improvement… as evidenced by lower systolic blood pressure and lower ratings of pain, anxiety, and fatigue as compared to patients without plants in their rooms.”
  • Enhance focus and concentration. “As with simply being in nature, being around plants improves concentration, memory, and productivity. “Being under the influence of plants” can increase memory retention up to 20%.”

In Going Green: 5 Easy to Grow Plants for Seniors, the website My LifeSite provides useful information about choosing and caring for houseplants. They suggest the following five plants:

Peace lily

With its dark green leaves and white curvy blooms, this easy-to-grow plant enjoys a warm and humid environment but must be kept away from direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist most of the time.

African violet

African violets will maintain their flowers when placed near a southern-facing window. Allow the soil to dry out before watering and avoid getting water on the leaves because this may result in leaf spotting.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera grows best in sunny indoor spaces and prefers dry soil, so it seldom needs watering.

Spider plant

Spider plants come in several varieties. The greenery works as a natural air purifier and can sufficiently minimize indoor pollution. Spider plants prefer bright to medium light and evenly moist soil.

Amazon elephant ear

These tropical plants have large heart-shaped leaves that resemble elephant ears. The plant needs a warm and humid environment and should be kept away from direct sunlight. To mimic the humidity in the jungle, mist the leaves of the plant when watering.

If your home or your client’s home has no indoor plants, try starting with just one. By “providing them with a bit of nature in the comfort of their own home,” you will be contributing to their overall health and wellbeing.

photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo Toronto Ontario ~ Canada ~ Allan Gardens ~ Landmark Site ~ Historical Allan Gardens Conservatory ~ via photopin (license)</a