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PLANTS PROVIDE STRESS RELIEF

A few well-placed houseplants can help people recover faster from stress and feel less mental fatigue, research has shown. Now a new study suggests that simply being in a room with some greenery may reduce physical discomfort as well.

When 198 people were asked to submerge their hands in ice water, 49 percent of those in a windowless room with plants were able to keep their hands immersed for the full five-minute test, while only 30 percent of those tested in the same room without plants were able to do it.

"We suspect that the calming effect of plants is an internal response," says researcher Virginia Lohr, professor of horticulture at Washington State University in Pullman. "We have evolved with plants in nature and are closely connected. Perhaps we're more at ease when we're near the things we need to survive."

Here's how to enjoy the healing power of plants in a quiet corner of your home:

Check your conditions. Note sunlight as well as temperature and humidity levels in your prospective plant corner first. This will help you select plants that will thrive.

Then pick appropriate foliage that you like. Virtually all houseplants have the same calming benefits.

A few will do. No need to create a lush jungle. Filling as little as 2 percent of your room space with plants will make an impact on stress levels, Lohr says. For a 120-square-foot room, that's three plants.

Enjoy. "The effect of plants is very strong," Lohr says. Spending a mere five minutes a day in your plant corner will soothe the soul.

Quick Tip: Humans have an affinity for trees. Drag a chair to your favorite backyard tree, or head to the park, and hang out.