Plants That Help You Live Longer

Clean Air Plants From The NASA Clean Air Study

“I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found. There is not a “fragment” in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself. – John Muir. 

During early research for my book The 20 Year Business: A Strategy to RETIRE EARLY (and STILL have it all) I was looking for specific plants which were easy to grow, very hard to kill and could be sold later to generate additional income.

The NASA Clean Air Study

As luck would have it, I stumbled across a research report known as the NASA Clean Air Study and realised I had found something insanely valuable. A study outlining plants that were easy to grow, hard to kill, thrived in low light conditions and the kicker, improved health by removing toxins and cleaning the air. Jackpot. (Wikipedia: NASA Clean Air Study).

The TLDR summary of the study is that NASA, at the conclusion, created a list of air-filtering plants that not only absorbed carbon dioxide (CO2) and produced oxygen (O2) (which all plants do anyway) but that also removed significant amounts of toxic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the surrounding environment. As an added bonus, the plants on NASA’s list also flourished in reduced light environments so were perfect for indoors. Initially I was confused why NASA would even bother to research plants, but it turned out that the focus of the study was really all about researching methods of creating clean air inside space stations, which of course made perfect sense. I had no idea that plants, natures natural filters apparently, could filter things like toxic chemicals from the air before I read this clean air study.

Your Home Contains Toxic Chemicals

Benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene are all proven toxic compounds that can have serious potential health effects over the long term according to various studies (refer google for the chemical and technical information). Disconcertingly, I learned that these chemicals are contained in some everyday items which can be found around my home (and place of work) such as paint, lacquer, furnishings, furniture wax, upholstery, synthetic building materials, cleaning products and some detergents to name just a few things. They are everywhere…

The NASA researchers suggested that efficient air cleaning (and reduction of toxins) is accomplished with at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space. I have overestimated the square footage of my house at 2000 sq ft meaning I will need at least 20 plants inside in various locations to be truly maximising the benefits these plants offer.

Clean Air Is Life

Air quality is super important, it is obvious, but something we really take for granted. There has been well documented research which links poor air quality to a decrease in life expectancy or premature death. According to the World Health Organisation 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. The new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer.(Source)

In a Kamal Meattle TED talk, Kamal himself, an advocate for these unique group of plants, mentions how Delhi’s (India) air was literally killing him. (TED Talk Kamal Meattle)

Logically then (to myself anyway), it stands to reason that by hyper improving air quality environments that the reverse effect of actually living longer might also be possible. It is just a theory but if plants can both remove toxins and improve air quality in a place where I usually spend a minimum of 10 hours a day (my house) I don’t think I have anything to lose and huge (potential) upside from the process.

Meattle produced some fascinating statistics from his own study with significant percentage reductions in a number of ailments that could be closely compared against symptoms commonly associated with ‘Sick Building Syndrome’. A documented medical condition where people living or working in a building suffer symptoms of illness or just feel generally unwell, often for no apparent reason. The main identifying observation was an increased frequency of symptoms such as headache, eye, nose and throat irritation, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.

How Much Time Do You Spend Indoors?

I immediately thought of a previous job where I worked inside an air conditioned environment literally 10+ hours a day where I almost never went outside. I began experiencing dry and irritated eyes almost on a daily basis, I was even having symptoms that resembled hay fever previously never experienced before. The office air conditioning on reflection was close to the operations warehouse with hundreds of trucks and forklifts going about their daily tasks. Could some of these pollutants have gotten through into the air filtration system and be circulated around and around? Maybe the system itself was just poorly maintained and full of other causes of indoor air pollution namely; pollen, bacteria, and moulds? What I do know is that after I changed jobs I haven’t needed to take any hay fever medication since and now have only the rarest occurrences of dry eyes.

Given that people spend more and more of their time indoors, air quality inside these environments impacts us greatly. At one time I was spending almost 90% of my total sum time each day indoors either at home, work or in the car (on the way to work). I imagine this is a common theme to many. It was air quality that directly impacted me each day and yet it was invisible. Obviously, I cannot change the air quality at work solely by myself (I can lobby for change) however I decided that I could absolutely make some changes at home to drastically improve the air quality inside my house and lessen exposure to any toxins that might be present for my family.

Improved air quality should theoretically also lead to better sleep which will then lead to improvements in virtually every function of mind and body during daily life! You can read my previous post on Sleep Recovery here.

My Top 5 Choices from the NASA Clean Air Study List

The following are the plants I have chosen (at this time) to focus on primarily. Some of the summary information has been paraphrased from Wikipedia.

READ THIS: Some of the plants on the NASA list are classed as toxic to Cats and Dogs. Make sure you check!!! We have both cats and dogs at home, so it is certainly something that I need to be mindful of, particularly where plants are placed inside and around the house.

Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria

Most commonly known as the Snake plant, Mother-In-Law’s tongue, and Viper’s bowstring hemp. This plant has the distinction of being one of the only plants which can remove CO2 and create O2 at night.

They are easy to grow and can be propagated by either cutting the leaves and replanting them (upright) or by division of the root structure (Rhizomes) itself. I have managed to do both methods without any issues.

Commonly used as a houseplant it will tolerant both low levels of light and irregular watering. During winter it needs only one watering every couple of months and will rot easily if over watered.

I have several in the house already.

Note: This plant is also classified as mildly toxic to dogs and cats.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)

Commonly called Spider Plant but also known by other names such as Airplane plant, St. Bernard’s lily, Spider ivy, Ribbon plant.

A flowering perennial herb easy to grow as a houseplant with variegated forms being the most popular.

Classified as nontoxic to cats and dogs means I can place these anywhere in the house without worry.

Bamboo Palm or Golden Cane Palm (Dypsis Lutescens)

A larger plant with green and golden leaves that grow together in clumps.

These can grow up to 12m in height (but will be in large pots inside so won’t be getting anywhere near that!).

Once I have several of these in our open plan dining room they will help create that indoor jungle feeling I am searching for.

Classified as nontoxic to cats and dogs means I can place this anywhere in the house without worry.

Weeping Fig (Ficus Benjamina)

The leaves are very sensitive to small changes in light. When it is turned around or relocated it reacts by dropping many of its leaves and replacing them with new leaves adapted to the new light intensity. Ficus are also very pliable with shaping. I am thinking for the moment that a Ficus Bonsai would make a nice centrepiece on the dining room table.

Note: This plant is also classified as mildly toxic to dogs and cats.

Common Ivy, English Ivy, European Ivy (Hedera Helix) OR Devils Ivy (Epipremnum Aureum)

Native to most of Europe and western Asia. A rampant, clinging evergreen vine, it is a familiar sight in gardens, waste spaces, on house walls, tree trunks and in wild areas across its native habitat.

In some parts of the world it is labelled as an invasive species (or weed) where it has been introduced. Luckily for me there are no such prohibitions where I live.

Devil’s ivy gets its name from being almost impossible to kill. A handy trait for surviving consistent neglect.

These can be grown easily from cuttings. Simply place in water and wait for new roots to form and replant.

Note: This plant is also classified as mildly toxic to dogs and cats.

Home and Work

Recently we moved into a new office location. I had been speaking to some of the staff in passing about the NASA Clean Air Study and the benefits. As I said earlier I have no direct control over my office environment but can influence positive change wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. I managed to rescue a rather tatty looking ‘Mother In Laws Tongue’ that was in need of some care from the old office. The replanted version is in the picture below.

While I was asking permission from the purchasing manager to adopt this plant I mentioned about the potential benefits of this and other air cleaning plants. We continued talking for a while and it turns out that ordering of plants was coming up for the new office in the very near future! Perfect timing! I wasted no time in forwarding a link to the NASA Clean Air Study and a list of plants I thought would be great for the office.

A few weeks later and several Devils Ivy plants now adorn various nooks of the office space working silently in the background to protect and clean.

Clean Air At Work. These Plants Thrive Indoors.

Clean air at home, clean air at work.

Definitely a step in the right direction for a healthier life.

There’s nothing to lose by asking the question of your workplace as this principle would loosely fall into the realms of workplace health and safety and general mental wellbeing.

After all plants make people happy.

Simply sharing this information with someone at your work could really make a difference.

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