How’d you like to be happier, calmer, healthier and oh, yeah … smarter?

Just add plants.

Yes, Kermit, it’s not only easy being green today, it’s essential. With Americans spending upward of 90 percent of their time indoors (ribbit!), it is more important than ever to breathe in fresh, clean and purified air. Why? For starters, you are breathing in 10,000 to 20,000 liters of air every day, taking approximately 23,000 breaths.

With energy-efficient construction and the tight sealing of building envelopes over the past several decades, the average air exchange has dropped drastically, creating decreased ventilation and a toxic brew of indoor air contaminants. While Miss Piggy can’t live without food (or Kermit), it turns out you can live for weeks without food and even a few days without water. But you can’t survive more than a few minutes without air.

Annual premature deaths caused by particulate air pollution have increased six times since the year 2000. —Global Burden of Diseases Report

The human brain weighs only 2 percent of our body’s weight, yet it takes in 20 percent of the total oxygen supplied to the body. Brain cells rapidly die when deprived of oxygen. Hence, the indoor environment plays a critical role in positively or negatively affecting our overall health, well-being and even our productivity.

Importance of Clean Indoor Air

Having plants at home or at work has numerous benefits, including making you a happier, more vibrant person, according to researchers. A recent study published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that having plants in your work space will make you smarter, too. According to a 2015 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Cognitive function scores were significantly better in Green+ [well-ventilated buildings with below-average air pollution and low carbon dioxide] building conditions compared to the conventional building conditions.” The researchers founded marked improvements in cognitive decision-making abilities with just slight improvements to the indoor air quality. Their cognitive scores were a whopping 61 percent higher on days when the workers were in a low-pollution building versus a conventional structure. Interior plants also:

  • Make people feel calmer
  • Increase optimism
  • Boost employee productivity
  • Increase reaction time in offices
  • Reduce stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce airborne bacteria
  • Reduce toxic chemicals
  • Increase oxygen

According to researcher and environmental activist Kamal Meattle, in conjunction with data from Dr. Bill Wolverton and NASA’s Clean Air Study, there are three common green plants you can grow indoors to supply all of your oxygen needs.

3 Plants to Meet Your Oxygen Needs

Areca Palm (“The Living Room Plant”) 

Otherwise known as the Chrysalidocarpus lutescens, the areca palm removes carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen during the day. The plants process gases in the air efficiently through openings in the leaves called stomata. Ideally, each person needs four shoulder-height plants.

Areca palm

Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (“The Bedroom Plant”)

The Sansevieria trifasciata converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night. Six to eight waist-high plants per person is ideal.

Mother-in-law’s tongue

Money Plant (“The Specialist Plant”)

The Epipremnum aureum removes formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during the day and produces oxygen at night.

According to Meattle, with just these three plants, “You could be in a bottle with a cap on top, and you would not die at all, and you would not need any fresh air.” Twelve hundred of these plants were placed in the Pahpar Business Center and Software Technology Incubator Park in New Delhi, India, in a 20-year-old, 50,000-square-foot building with more than 300 building occupants. The government of India published a study calling this the healthiest building in New Delhi. There was a 42 percent probability of a 1 percent increase in blood oxygen after a 10-hour exposure. A 2008 study by the Central Pollution Control Board found that comparing this to other buildings, there was a reduced incidence of:

  • Eye irritation by 52%
  • Respiratory system problems by 34%
  • Headaches by 24%
  • Lung impairment by 12%
  • Asthma by 9%

Additionally, there was more than a 20 percent increase in human productivity by incorporating these plants. A 15 percent reduction in energy requirement was also achieved. This is more important now than ever as the world’s energy requirements are increasing daily and expected to increase by 30 percent in the next decade. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), about 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption is consumed in residential and commercial buildings.

Toxic Chemicals Found Indoors

These plants are also tiny toxin scrubbers through their life-dependent process, photosynthesis. By taking in carbon dioxide and converting it to oxygen, plants naturally remove excess carbon from the air through the tiny openings in their leaves. During photosynthesis, foliage also absorbs other chemicals, such as nitrogen oxides, airborne ammonia, some sulfur dioxide and ozone. Turns out,  plant leaves, roots and soil bacteria are each important in removing trace levels of toxic vapors by acting as collection sites for dust and other air particles. These three plants can also remove chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene.

Formaldehyde, a human carcinogen, is ubiquitous in our homes and offices today. Exposure comes from sources such as air fresheners, cleaners, foam insulation, furniture, paper products, plywood and particle board. Formaldehyde is also used in consumer paper products that have been treated with urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins, including grocery bags, waxed papers, facial tissues and paper towels. UF resins can also surprisingly be found in permanent-press linens and fabrics. Other sources of formaldehyde include natural gas, kerosene and cigarette smoke.

Benzene is also found in tobacco smoke and can increase the risk of leukemia. Other sources of benzene in your home or office include inks and dyes, petroleum products like gasoline and oils, plastics, rubber products, synthetic fibers, detergents and paints.

Now that you’ve made the (rainbow) connection between indoor plants and clean air, don’t forget proper maintenance. Since plants can easily gather dust, be sure to wipe them down with a wet cloth regularly and avoid plants that are toxic to cats, such as those from the lily family, if you have felines at home. Just by adding green to your home or office, you are improving your health and saving the planet … one plant at a time!

Read More:
Houseplants from Produce
Better Breathing: 6 of the Best Plants for Indoor Air Quality
7 Seed-Starting Tips for Smarter Indoor Gardening

Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock

By Lisa Beres

Lisa Beres is a healthy home authority, Baubiologist, published author, professional speaker and Telly award-winning media personality who teaches busy people how to eliminate toxins from their home with simple, step-by-step solutions to improve their health. With her husband, Ron, she is the co-founder of The Healthy Home Dream Team and the 30-day online program Change Your Home. Change Your Health. She is the author of the children’s book My Body My House and co-author of Just Green It!: Simple Swaps to Save Your Health and the Planet, Learn to Create a Healthy Home! Green Nest Creating Healthy Homes and The 9 to 5 Greened: 10 Steps to a Healthy Office. Lisa’s TV appearances include "The Rachael Ray Show," "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," "The Doctors," "Fox & Friends," "Chelsea Lately" and "The Suzanne Somers Show."