Exposure to ‘blue spaces’ linked to better mental health

Oct 14, 2022 – Spending time in “blue spaces” such as beaches, rivers and lakes as a child can have significant and lasting benefits for well-being throughout life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

When exposed to blue spaces in childhood, people are more likely to revisit bodies of water as adults and enjoy time spent in natural settings.

“Learning to swim and appreciating the dangers in terms of rip currents, cold temperatures, etc., is of course paramount,” said Mathew White, one of the study’s authors and principal investigator at the University of Vienna. recounts The Guardian.

“But the message we’re trying to get across is that just teaching kids about the dangers of aquatic environments can make them too scared and ill-equipped to enjoy them, places that can also be very beneficial to their health and well-being.” “. as they grow,” she said. “The vast majority of visits to the blue space, both for adults and children, do not involve getting wet, so there are also many benefits to spending time near the water, not just in it.”

Researchers from the United States and a dozen other countries analyzed data from the international BlueHealth survey of more than 15,000 people in 18 countries, examining links between children’s exposure to blue spaces and well-being in adults.

Participants recalled their experiences up to the age of 16, noting how often they visited blue spaces, how local they were, and how comfortable their parents or guardians allowed them to swim and play. They also discussed their recent contact with blue spaces and green spaces during the previous four weeks, as well as their mental health status during the previous two weeks.

The researchers found that greater children’s exposure to blue spaces was associated with better adult well-being. They noted that the results were consistent across countries and regions.

Adults also had familiarity and confidence around shorelines, rivers, and lakes, as well as higher levels of joy around bodies of water and a greater propensity to spend recreational time in nature as they got older. This, in turn, improved their mood and well-being.

“We recognize that green and blue spaces have a positive impact on people’s mental and physical health,” said Valeria Vitale, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral student at Sapienza University of Rome. The Guardian.

In recent years, a growing number of studies have pointed to the benefits of spending time in nature, including blue spaces and green spaces such as forests, parks, and gardens. Natural environments can increase people’s physical activity levels, improve mood and well-being, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Vitale and colleagues noted that blue spaces, in particular, have unique sensory qualities, such as the sounds of waves and reflections of light that can improve mood, as well as leisure activities such as swimming, fishing, and water sports.

“We believe our findings are particularly relevant to practitioners and policymakers due to the nationally representative nature of the samples,” he said. “First, our findings reinforce the need to protect and invest in natural areas to maximize potential benefits for subjective well-being. Second, our research suggests that policies and initiatives that encourage increased contact with blue spaces during childhood may contribute to better mental health later in life.

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