Funny how we use the phrase, “a breath of fresh air”.  This signals that we certainly understand that there are benefits to fresh air.  For example, you might describe someone new that you meet as “a breath of fresh air”.   Yet, very few of us actually take a breath of fresh air.  Why not use this phrase literally and reap from it what you can?

Fresh air has restorative powers waiting for us all.  We can take in this tonic outside OR we can bring it indoors.  Either way, it’s magical.

Breathing fresh air indoors

In any space, the oxygen content goes down continually as you breathe out carbon dioxide and other wastes.  For many of us the spaces we live and work in go from heat to air conditioning followed by heat and then air conditioning once again.  Staying in an environment that is closed-in like this for a long period of time means you are breathing in the same air over and over again.  One big vicious cycle if you ask me.  Fresh air rectifies the situation and breaks this nasty cycle by allowing for a steady supply of oxygen for both your brain and your entire body.

Have you ever noticed the stale morning smell that lingers in a bedroom that has had the door closed throughout the night?  There’s a reason for this.  While you sleep you breathe moisture, breath odors and tons of microorganisms into the air, your pillow and your bedding.  Added to that you perspire, exude skin oils and body smells.  Multiply the amount of all these smells in a room by how many people sleep there.  No wonder it’s stinky.  For goodness sakes, open the windows and let some air into the room!  Better yet, follow the lead of what many Europeans have been doing since the beginning of time and air out your bedding.  Years ago while living in the Washington, DC area my dear friend, Peggy Love’s family bedding hung out each bedroom window airing out for the coming night’s sleep.  I loved seeing this and it made perfect sense to me.  Peggy knew the restorative powers of fresh air for the family bedding.  (She also had one gorgeous silver tea service but that’s a story for another day!)

Physiologically, fresh air makes a healthier environment for us.  There are psychological benefits as well.  Psychologically, the feeling of being closed-in can be constraining.  I was talking about this just recently with one of my many niece’s, Sarah Shrader.  I was visiting her new home in Richmond, VA and she was talking about how different it was compared to her home in San Diego.  In her home in San Diego the windows were always open.  Now in Richmond, she tended to keep them closed and it made her feel confined.  I understood exactly what she meant by that.  My body actually craves fresh air and regardless of the weather or the temperature somewhere in my house there is at least one window cracked.  Even in the middle of a Chicago winter!  And if weather permits, I have every window possible open.  I do right now.

Breathing fresh air outdoors

Hiking in nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Many of us spend very little time outdoors.  If we exercise, we do it on the treadmills or machines in our homes or we go to the gym.  Just the other day a friend told me she asked her son to go for a walk after dinner. He was actually baffled and asked her why she didn’t just get on her treadmill.  She told him that the fresh air would do them both good and they could also spend some time together.  He grudgingly went thinking all the while she was weird.  Unbelievable.

In past posts on this blog I have expressed the restorative powers that nature has for us.  (An example is my post, Let Nature Restoreth Your Soul (And Your Home).)  I learned this first hand myself.  I have always been a lover of the outdoors but it wasn’t until the past few years when I became inundated with way too much trauma-drama that I understood the healing powers of nature.  Let me explain…

I moved to the Chicago area a little over two years ago.  I came here kicking and screaming.  I left my business, my friends, my organic garden, my beautiful yard and my family back in Charlotte.  Seriously, I thought God had decided a traumatic divorce, a stalker, a chronically ill child, serious health issues of my own and an earth-shattering chance encounter on a plane weren’t enough to send me over the edge.  God had to throw me one more curve ball.  A Mack Daddy one to boot.  I had to move away from my kids, their spouses and grandchildren.  How could I hover over them so far away?  Weren’t they supposed to move away from me and not the other way around?

In the woods

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Home was with my David so I moved.  Once in Chicago I was faced with endless time on my hands.  I took to walking in nature.  With forest preserves all around me, it gave me something to do besides gourmet cooking and Law And Order reruns.

I started feeling better.  I noticed I was less angry and grumpy.  (So did my David for that matter.)  I slept better.   I smiled more.  The bliss began…

I owe it all to nature and fresh air.  No two ways about it.

The benefits of fresh air

Regardless of whether your are outdoors or inside, fresh air is vital to your essence.  Ponder these benefits you reap:

  • Fresh air helps the airways to your lungs dilate more fully.
  • Fresh air improves the cleansing action of your lungs.
  • Fresh air rids your body of accumulated impurities.
  • Fresh air improves your heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic rate.
  • Fresh air strengthens your immune system.
  • Fresh air soothes your nerves.
  • Fresh air improves your sleep.
  • Fresh air improves the serotonin levels in your brain.
  • Fresh air clears your mind.
Fresh air

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Recently I found myself unexpectedly back in Virginia.  My stay there was action packed to say the least and so any time I could, I spent it outdoors.  I played on the swings with grand nieces and nephews, Gavin, Ellie, Whitt and Logan.  I took a walk with niece Marli and the crew of babies and kids.  Even my niece, Christy wanted to make sure two month old Carina spent time outside.  She told me that her pediatrician actually prescribed outdoor air daily for precious Carina.  (You go, Doc!)  So, one evening her husband, Ryan and I stood outside with tiny Carina asleep in her stroller and five month old Maya nestled asleep in my arms.  Both babies were getting nature’s tonic of fresh air while Ryan and I talked.  What could be better?

Find ways to get a breath of fresh air.  Both you and your homespace deserve it.  Like the words in an old 60’s song by Three Dog Night, titled “Mama Told Me Not To Come”, open up the windows and let some air into the room.  Otherwise you’ll choke on the smell of stale perfume!

You’ll be glad you did.

To a breath of fresh air…

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Peace Lily

Peace Lily

As the autumn season approaches, the days become shorter and the nights become crisper.  Most of us begin to think of moving indoors and spending less time in the fresh air.

If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty,   you may not need to worry about the many pollutants that can become trapped indoors with us.  But, if you live in a newer, energy efficient home with windows and doors tightly sealed, or you work in a building where circulation is poor and the air is stale, these pollutants have less opportunity to move to the outside.

What NASA says about houseplants

Over the years our space program has led the way to an important discovery about the role of houseplants indoors.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been researching methods to cleanse the atmosphere in future space stations to keep them fit for human habitation.  In doing this research, NASA has found that many common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution that occurs indoors.

The science of plants

Snake Plant

Snake Plant

Plant scientists already knew this!  Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process.

Now researchers have found many houseplants can absorb benzene, formaldehyde and many other air pollutants that are created as gases when we install man-made materials such as carpets, laminates, paints, wallpapers and fabrics in our homes.

While saving energy and money is important to all of us, we must remember that it is crucial to our indoor environment to have clean, fresh air in our homes.  So, houseplants take on a larger role in our homes (and all interior environments for that matter) than merely providing beauty in the décor.  They contribute to balancing internal humidity and cleansing the air we breathe.

The top twelve air purifiers

‘Janet Craig’

‘Janet Craig’

Here is a list of houseplants that have been found to play an important role in removing air borne pollutants:

  1. English Ivy   (Hedera helix)
  2. Spider plant  (Chlorophytum comosum)
  3. Peace Lily  (Spathiphyllum)
  4. Pothos  (Epipiremnum)
  5. Bamboo Palm  (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  6. Philodendron  (Philodendron scandens)
  7. Selloum  (Philodendron selloum)
  8. Dracaena  (Dracaena marginata)
  9. Corn plant  (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
  10. Janet Craig  (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
  11. Snake plant  (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  12. Weeping Fig  (Ficus benjamina)

Helpful tips to know

  • Studies by NASA have generated the recommendation that you use one 6-8” houseplant per every 100 square feet of living space.  Think about it.  This is probably more than you currently have in your home and it is time to add some.
  • Houseplants need dusting just like any other “accessory” in your home.  When you allow dust to accumulate on the leaves of your plants, they cannot do the work they are meant to do in helping to purify the air.  So, be sure to regularly clean the leaves of dust and debris from your plants.
Fall beauty

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Enjoy your home in every way possible.  Use houseplants to add beauty and nature to your space.  At the same time reap the benefits of what nature allows them to do for the air. Houseplants such as these top twelve are what can be called “natural clean air machines”.  You, your home and all your interior environments deserve to be healthy spaces – start now to clean up your air!

Happy Fall!!!

***A special thank you to Townside Gardens Nursery in Roanoke, VA for providing the plant photos! ***

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