Looking at plants is good for us

Written by Katherine, Landscape Design Associate

You may not always think about it, but you are probably doing something that is really good for you, every day. Here’s one I’ve been reading about lately—how directly gazing at a plant, relaxing passively in nature, or taking a walk with plants in view have profound effects on our health. From reducing stress to boosting creativity, gazing at green is good for you.

Pōkalakala (Polyscias racemosa)

Observing one small plant (succulent, snake plant, peperomia, you name it) in a tiny pot for 3 minutes a day can reduce stress

Stress is a normal part of all our lives.  However, we know that too much stress is bad for health and can have negative impacts on the immune system.  Learning about simple ways to reduce it, is great news!

A Japanese study gave office workers the task of gazing at one small potted plant on their desk for 3 minutes whenever they felt fatigued.  The intervention reduced psychological stress and provoked positive thoughts.

‘Iwa’iwa, Maidenhair fern

Gardening has a variety of beneficial health outcomes

Gardening improves physical, psychological and social health.  As a low-impact outdoor activity, gardening provides us a routine to get exercise.  Getting some sun (you can also wear a hat and long-sleeves) is one of the best ways for the body to make Vitamin D—the helper of our immune system.  Cultivating and taking care of plants gives us a meaningful connection to living things and our environment.  Community gardening includes all these benefits, plus enhances our social connections to each other.  The Kaua’i Department of Health office in Lihue recently planted a native garden in front of the building. Knowing the benefits gardening can provide, they plan to incorporate the care of the plants in an onsite wellness program.  You can check out the story here.

Being in nature is nourishing in a way that restores our depleted attention and energy supply

Everyday tasks at home and at work demand our directed-attention abilities to be continuously operating.  Driving, buying groceries, and sending texts and emails all require the cognitive functions of the pre-frontal cortex which deserves a break sometimes.  Studies with both adults and children have shown that spending time in nature has the effect of refreshing those prefrontal circuit boards.  A short walk or time spent in passive observation of natural elements restores our direct-attention-giving potential.  That means, after taking a walk or break to sit outside, we will be better equipped to tackle tasks on our to-do list.  Our more complex cognitive functions see a benefit too– such as increasing problem-solving abilities, better multi-tasking, and even boosting creativity. 

Koʻoloa ʻula

It reassures me to know that activities as simple as walks, sitting outside, spending some time gardening, or simply doing “facetime” with a plant can provide a variety of health benefits.  And that is why I wonder if plants (in addition to dogs and cats of course) might be our other best friends. 

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