Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mind and body

Study: Living near water has mental health benefits

iStockphoto

iStockphoto

There's good reason visions of a relaxing vacation often include the ocean. And why many people fantasize about retiring to the coast. There's a sense of calm and wonder that comes from being by the water.

While the tourism industry and Florida snowbirds have known this forever, there's now research to confirm that living near water may actually improve mental health.

Using Wellington, New Zealand, the urban capital, as its case study, researchers from Michigan State University evaluated residents who lived in neighborhoods with views of either blue or green spaces. Coastal residents saw the Tasman Sea or the Pacific Ocean while inland residents were near forests or parks.

Those who lived near the water reported less psychological distress.

Many other research studies have looked at the correlation between health and coastal living and have found an uptick in mental health among people who live by the water. But Michigan State says it's the first to show an affirmative link between the two based on visibility of water from a person's home.

The original intent of the research was to determine the effect of nature on anxiety and depression, particularly in urban areas where there's less natural beauty. It is well-established that having bodies of water or swaths of green space promotes physical and social activity, and that being near nature has a known stress-reducing effect.

"Green and blue spaces are recognized as therapeutic or salutogenic places and may lower psychological distress by serving as calming backdrops in residential neighborhoods," the authors wrote.

Using data from the New Zealand Health Survey, researchers were able to compare mental health statistics to where people live.

What they found is that there was no significant benefit for people living near green areas, but there was for people who lived by the water. Even when they broke down demographics by age, sex and personal income, there was still an improvement in mental health among people closer to the ocean.

This bears out in U.S. studies of mental health as well. Hawaii is ranked the No. 1 happiest and healthiest state in America, according to the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

There are, of course, notable limitations to such a study, which the authors detail at length in their paper. For one, they note that the blue spaces in Wellington are a better representation of natural beauty than the city's green ones, which are mostly parks and sports fields. Moreover, would the same results be true of other bodies of water that aren't oceans?

"If the type of water is irrelevant, similar findings could potentially be evaluated on large fresh water bodies, such as the North American Great Lakes," the authors wrote. "If the type of water is salient, this may relate not only to the visibility of the ocean, but the other sensory stimuli related to the ocean, including the sound of waves and the smell of air passing over the ocean."

Still, the researchers argue that such findings could help identify some tangible ways to help treat mental illness. In April, the World Bank and the World Health Organization held a meeting about how to create a global agenda for mental health, calling it a critical issue on par with where HIV/AIDS was 20 years ago. They're prepared to make significant investments.

The authors of the study suggest that, if it's true that blue spaces promote greater psychological well-being, then communities could, for example, invest in more affordable housing near water.

Or, if living with views of the water is not an option, may we suggest beach vacations covered by health insurance?

Study: Living near water has mental health benefits 05/12/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2016 6:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Those wide-open, end-to-end, shoot-at-will games are a lot of fun to watch, especially when those shots are going in the net. But if the players had their druthers, they would rather have a more controlled pace, one with which they can dictate the action.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.