Dr Michael Mosley: Best houseplants for boosting memory and wellbeing – 'give it a try'

In this episode, Dr. Michael Mosley shared the best plants for good health and wellbeing. The BBC Radio 4 podcast explained how many plants you need, their health benefits and the research behind in-house greenery.

“I’m in my office at home. For just one thing this week, I filled it with houseplants,” said the doctor while watering his new green office additions.

Dr. Mosley explained: “The reason I’ve splashed out on houseplants for my office is not just because they cheer the place up.

“But the research suggests they can boost memory, productivity, mood and even reduce air pollution.”

The Just One Thing host confessed that it’s going to be “hard work” to keep his new plants in good shape as he doesn’t have “green fingers”.

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How can plants help?

Plants can improve our health by reducing indoor air pollution in our own homes and offices and boosting humidity, which can be helpful for our skin.

The doctor explained that indoor air pollutants include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and also carbon dioxide (CO2).

The podcast host said: “In normal concentrations CO2 is harmless but in higher concentrations, it can impair thinking and decision making.”

Indoor pollutants can be just as harmful, as a study by the Royal College of Physicians linked them to a variety of health problems, such as asthma, wheezing, conjunctivitis, dermatitis and eczema.


How many plants do you need and what types?

This episode’s guest, Dr. Tijana Blanusa, who is also the Principal Scientist for the Royal Horticulture Society, recommended: “For a small room, we are talking probably at least five or six plants to have a measurable impact.”

When it comes to the type, she said: “We have found that fast-growing, thirsty, physiologically, active plants are giving more service. So, in practical terms…peace lilies [and] devil’s ivy.”

Plants that are “easy to look after”, like succulents, “do very little in terms of gas exchange”.

The last rule the guest shared to get the most out of indoor greenery is the more light you give your plants, the better they are going to perform.

What does the research say?

Dr. Mosley said: “In 2006, when researchers introduced potted plants into 60 offices with high levels VOCs, they found these levels fell by between 50-75 percent.

“A more recent study showed when lots of houseplants were brought into an office… there was a measurable improvement in memory and mood.”

If this isn’t enough to convince you, doctor Mosley also mentioned another study from Noway, that introduced plants into an office, school and radiology department of a hospital.

“Filling the office with houseplants lead to less coughs, headaches and fatigue,” he said.

Dr. Blanusa explained that the health links of plants can be also proved by taking them away.

She said: “The study we have done was we introduced some plants, but also took them away. When taking them away people were reporting more stress, reduced efficiency and reduced attention.

“So, it’s not just what they do when you bring them in, but what you lose when you take them away.”

“If you’re really having a massive problem that’s weighing on your shoulders no amount of houseplants can fix it for you. But in small everyday life tasks, plants certainly have a role to play,” she added.

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