Researchers know that spending time in green spaces like parks improves mental health, but what about “blue spaces”?
You probably intuitively know that being close to water can induce feelings of calm. And many poets and artists have attested to the sense of awe and magic that water can evoke. But can it deliver the same wide-ranging benefits that urban green infrastructure brings to mental health?
A few studies have shown that water bodies score just as well – if not better – in supporting psychological well-being as compared with “green” nature. The bestselling book “Blue Mind” by Marine Biologist Wallace J Nichols focuses on proven scientific evidence that being close to bodies of water promotes mental health and happiness.
The term “blue mind” describes the mildly meditative state we fall into when near, in, on or under water. It’s an antidote to what I can “red mind” – the anxious, over connected and over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life. Research has proven that spending time near the water is essential to achieving an elevated and sustained happiness.
The long list of benefits include lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and healthier exercise. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety, autism and more. Research shows that being near water boosts creativity and enhances the quality of conversations, providing a backdrop to the important aspects of life.
This “blue mind” response to water is best understood from the long view. our ancestors were on the move as a nomadic species, and finding water was a matter of life or death. Researchers believe these health benefits arise from a number of pathways. There might be a direct benefit, for example, from water’s ability to redce heat stress in a hot climate – the way that fountains cooled areas in 13th Century Spain. Water can help reduce traffic noise and so lessen the stress caused by a loud city scape.
Researchers also report a direct effect on stress regulation, finding that contact with nature slows down the human stress response and induces calm. So why not get out near water this weekend? A river, lake, shore or even a swimming pool could help you feel better and think more clearly.
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