The benefits of plants in hospitals

As we outlined in a previous blog post, having plants in your office can bring countless health benefits. This is because not only do they reduce dust, mold and bacteria levels (which can trigger allergies and make symptoms worse), but they can also boost concentration and improve your mood and morale.

However, there are also plenty of benefits of having plants in hospitals, and these range from reducing stress and feelings of unease, to improving ventilation and removing toxins from the air. In fact, plants in hospitals has also been shown to promote healing, as well as speed up patients’ recovery time.

Dr. Charles R. Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture, Texas A&M University says: “Shrubs, trees, and flowers have a practical application in hospitals: the presence of plants in patient recovery rooms greatly reduces the time necessary to heal. The soothing effects of ornamental flowers and plants are so great that simply having daily views of flowers and other ornamental plants in landscaped areas outside patient recovery room significantly speed up recovery time.”

And the benefits of plants aren’t just felt by patients; their calming effect can also be particularly useful for staff that are working in this type of high-stress environment.

Alexis Rochester, a Chemist, Writer and Blogger at Chemistry Cachet, adds: “Plants have so many intricate chemical processes going on constantly, and they are amazing in dozens of ways. Plants remove multiple toxins from the air, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide (not dangerous levels), formaldehyde, and even benzene.

“I believe indoor plants are beneficial in the home, as well as in public areas with high germ levels (like offices or schools). Even fresh cut flowers have benefits like this.”

Here is our round-up of some of the most important benefits of plants in hospitals…

They purify the air of toxins

As well as mold, dust and bacteria, plants also remove toxins from the air and make it purer to breathe. This makes them a great addition to hospitals, doctors surgeries, and any clinical environments where people are unwell and may be especially vulnerable to the adverse effects they can cause.

These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, as well as coughing, a sore throat, and irritation of the skin and eyes.

Everyday toxins are present in many items that are commonly used in hospitals, such as formaldehyde in paper bags and towels, and ammonia in cleaning products. Although being exposed to these toxins is generally safe in small doses, these symptoms can worsen if you’re exposed to them for an extended period of time (as a long-term patient or a hospital employee would be).

As NASA’s Clean Air Study concludes, some of the most effective plants for removing these toxins are Weeping Fig, English Ivy, and Chrysanthemums.

They combat ‘Sick Building Syndrome’

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is the term that describes the adverse health and feelings of discomfort an individual may experience when spending an extended amount of time in the same building (such as their place of work). For this reason, both hospital patients and employees are at risk of developing Sick Building Syndrome.

As NHS UK explains, the symptoms of SBS vary from person to person, as well as from day to day. They will also usually disappear when you leave the building, though they can reappear wThe benefits of plants in hospitalshen you re-enter.

These effects can range from physical ailments such as headaches, dizziness, a blocked or runny nose, and general aches and pains, to mental symptoms such as poor concentration and fatigue.

Although the exact cause of SBS is unknown, there are plenty of theories, and evidence suggests that it may be due to people being exposed to indoor toxins (such as formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene) in buildings that have poor ventilation and/or low humidity. Due to these conditions, a person is more likely to develop a reaction to these everyday toxins.

However, as plants raise humidity levels and absorb these everyday toxins to convert into food, having plants in hospitals is one of the most effective ways of combating SBS in this environment.

They improve mood and morale

It’s no secret that an overwhelming amount of people have a fear of the hospital or visiting the doctor. In fact, even if you don’t have a phobia, you’re still likely to feel uneasy when you visit or need to stay in a hospital for an extended period of time.

Not only will introducing plants to the hospital make the building look less cold and clinical, which will have a calming effect when it’s most needed, but plants have also been scientifically proven to boost your mood. According to UTS research from 2010, their presence can reduce tension and feelings of anxiety by 37%, while researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School concluded that people living near more ‘green areas’ experienced less mental distress than those that did not.

Push Doctor also adds: “While there are many things you can do to manage your mental health, flowers can help restore some short-term calm to your situation.

“It turns out that this is true even in very worrying situations. A 2008 study found that hospital patients who had flowers in their room felt less anxious. They were also more positive about their recovery and needed less post-operative care than patients without plants.”

However, it’s not just indoor plants that have a calming effect; a well-maintained garden being visible from hospital rooms will also improve patients’ moods.

As Karen Hornigold, Assistant Advisor Data & Information Management at Woodland Trust UK, explains: “With everything that is now known about the benefits of green space and nature, the use of nature as a therapeutic intervention, also known as ‘green care’ or ‘ecotherapy’, is gaining recognition. Nature-based interventions can involve green exercise, community food growing, environmental conservation or animal based recreation.

“For people suffering from dementia, green care has shown some positive results. For example, escorting residents to an outdoor garden reduced aggressive behaviour, and agitated behaviours decreased when residents had access to an outdoor walking path or when corridors were decorated with natural scenes.”

Additionally, plants have also been proven to aid concentration and memory recall, which reduces the likelihood of employee burnout and the risk of mistakes being made. This is particularly important in a hospital, as it’s a high stress environment where mistakes can’t afford to happen.

They promote healing

The benefits of plants in hospitalsHigh levels of stress can have a detrimental effect on an individual. As well as causing feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and irritability, it can also bring with it a host of physical symptoms, including muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, and headaches.

Evidence has also found that high levels of stress can slow the healing process; this is because Cortisol, the hormone that’s released in response to stress, interferes with the body’s activities to heal wounds. (source: U.S. News) As plants in hospitals can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, they will therefore aid patients in their recovery.

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t just bring nature indoors; hospital gardens are just as important for aiding wound healing and increasing patients’ mental well-being. When environmental psychologist, Roger Ulrich, and his team examined the medical records of people recovering from gallbladder surgery at a Pennsylvanian hospital, they found that those with windows overlooking trees healed faster, needed less pain medication, and experienced less post-surgical complications.

Mary Golden, Advocacy Incubator at Green Plants for Green Buildings, says: “over 50 studies have been published that identify access to nature as the primary influence on faster patient recovery rates, decreased dependency on medication, decreased staff and family stress, and improved emotional wellness.”

Christopher Horn, Director of Communications at American Forests, adds: “researchers at Kansas State University found that the presence of plants in hospital rooms can speed up recovery of surgical patients. In their study, patients who had plants in their rooms had lower blood pressure, asked for less pain medication, felt less anxious and were released sooner than those without any indoor plant exposure.”

So, what should a hospital garden include? Research has found that mature trees and flowering plants appealed most, though they should also walkable paths and furniture for patients and visitors to use.