We’ve long known that access to green spaces can improve our mental health, but according to a new study, blue spaces such as oceans, lakes, and rivers offer similar benefits. The study revealed that children who spend time in and around blue spaces are more likely to have better mental health as adults.
The research included contributions from Matilda van den Bosch, an adjunct professor in the University of British Columbia‘s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, and was published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Although previous studies have highlighted the impact that green spaces can have on our psychological well-being, much less is known about the mental health benefits of water-based environments. The team behind the present study was interested in learning how access to these blue spaces can impact our mental health throughout our lives.
To do this, the researchers used data from a survey of 15,000 people across 18 different countries. Study participants were asked to recall their experiences with blue spaces from birth until age 16, including both how often they visited blue spaces and how comfortable their parents were with letting them play in these spaces.
Following this, the study participants were asked to describe their experiences with blue spaces over the past month, as well as to assess their recent mental health.
The results of the study showed that adults who had spent more time in blue spaces as children tended to also spend more time in both green and blue spaces as adults. In turn, these adults also reported higher levels of mental well-being.
“Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health,” said Valeria Vitale, a PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome and lead author of the study, in a press release.
The authors believe that children who visit blue spaces regularly are more likely to appreciate and prioritize visiting these water-based environments as adults. They suggest that parents help children become comfortable around oceans, lakes, and rivers so that they can reap these psychological benefits throughout their lives.
Given that not all of us live close to large bodies of water, however, this study highlights one way that urban planners could prioritize mental health in cities.
By incorporating blue spaces (for example, rivers or ponds) into cities, urban planners could offer a much-needed mental health boost to city dwellers.