Communities across the globe have realized that living near the water confers stress-reducing benefits for generations, but it’s only recently that modern science has turned its focus to the reasons behind this phenomenon. While the idea of living by the water usually brings up images of serene mountain lakes, the scientific evidence indicates that city dwellers and suburbanites can benefit just as much from blue spaces. Read on to find out what modern scientists have to say about it.
Historical and Current Context
Just about every culture values the inherent natural power of trees and bodies of water. From Christian mystics to nature-worshipping pagans, people have always loved to live by seas, streams, lakes, and ponds. For modern consumers, a man-made lagoon can have the same effect.
While most modern families don’t have the luxury of living out in the woods next to a private lake while working jobs and raising children, many can take advantage of man-made water features like those found at many Metro Places properties. This gives families the opportunity to relax and play by the water without having to give up the luxuries and conveniences of living in more populated areas.
Opportunities to Socialize
One of the great things about living by the water in a more popular area is that it gives residents the chance to socialize with friends and neighbors. This alone confers a number of mental health benefits, from a lower risk of dementia to boosts in brain health.
Those who socialize frequently with friends, family members, and others experience lower rates of depression and elevated moods. They also have stronger social support networks in place, which can be extremely beneficial during times of stress.
An Inviting Place to Exercise
Getting enough exercise is just as important for maintaining good mental health. It reduces the symptoms of stress and anxiety and makes it less likely that they will reoccur, helps people feel more in control, improves their self-esteem, and increases confidence as physical fitness enthusiasts challenge themselves and meet their goals. Exercise can also encourage better sleep habits, increase energy levels, and help consumers avoid less-helpful coping mechanisms like drinking.
Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise available since it uses just about all the muscles in the body without placing stress on the joints. The fact that swimming and water sports are also enjoyable activities that can be engaged in with friends and family makes water-based forms of exercise even more appealing. Plus, all that extra vitamin D synthesized during the time spent exercising out in the sun can protect against not just mental health problems like depression, but also physical health problems like cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks.
It has long been assumed that spending time in nature reduces stress, but recent research shows that living near the water is just as beneficial for city dwellers as it is for those who live out in the country. The same study also shows that visible blue space is more strongly associated with lower stress than visible green space.
The study in question was performed by researchers using data derived from Wellington, New Zealand, a city that’s home to almost 500,000 citizens. The researchers behind the study wanted to evaluate the impact of blue spaces and green spaces on psychological health, so they pulled together topographic information from databases and data gathered from the 2011/12 New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS) to evaluate the connection.
Blue Spaces More Impactful than Green Spaces
Some of the connections they discovered were surprising. For one thing, the results showed that increased visibility of blue spaces was significantly correlated with lower stress levels, but the same connection was not present with green spaces. It has long been assumed that exposure to trees conferred more psychological benefits, but now researchers know that that may not be the case.
Opinions are divided on why blue spaces showed a higher correlation with stress reduction than green spaces, but some researchers believe it had to do with the study design. The green spaces in the city of Wellington were often man-made spaces like sports fields and playgrounds, which may have impacted how people interacted with them or felt about them.
Ruling Out Other Variables
Before coming to any conclusions, the researchers had to rule out other independent variables that could have impacted their results. That’s because socioeconomic status is often tied to access to blue spaces and green spaces. Socioeconomic status is also tied to access to medical care and psychological wellbeing, so the researchers had to rule that out as a potential cause of the differences they noted in psychological wellbeing.
To do this, they controlled for variables like wealth, age, sex, and local crime rates to show that water views were beneficial to all people across all demographics. They also took an extra step to ensure the accuracy of their results by measuring blue space visibility against an unrelated factor: toothlessness. The rationale was that if there was a significant relationship between water views and toothlessness, that would be a clear indicator that something was wrong with the data. Thankfully, that relationship wasn’t there.
Implications of the Research
The World Health Organization (WHO) expects depression to be the most significant disease contributor by the year 2030, with some experts referring to depression as an ongoing epidemic. If living within view of the water can reduce stress, combat depression, and improve other health metrics, that could be a game-changer for consumers who want to improve their moods and win their battles with depression and anxiety.
The Bottom Line
There’s no longer any need to rely exclusively on anecdotal evidence when evaluating the connection between water views and mental health. An increasing body of scientific literature is now available to back up anecdotal claims and explain the mechanisms at work behind these lifestyle and mental health improvements. Families and individuals who want to start taking advantage of blue spaces and water views in their own lives don’t need to move to the middle of nowhere. They can find communities that balance nature and convenience in a way that’s ideal for modern life.