The advantages of spending time near water has intrigued me for some time. I thought it was something not many experienced, it seems I was wrong.
My curiosity stems from my own experience of living near the sea, walking on the beach and running along the coast path, and how it makes me feel. My interest also connects to my profession, as a clinical psychologist, and how we can use our environment to improve our mental health and wellbeing.
When I venture to the beach, I can feel the benefits of being near water, or in blue space. I’ve often wondered if this is the case for everyone and if there’s research to support my experience.
What’s Blue Space?
Blue space is essentially any place where we find water. Obviously there’s the sea and coastline, but let’s not discount the importance of spending time near rivers, lakes, canals and waterfalls for our health and wellbeing.
We know natural environments are good for us. Research widely documents the advantages of spending time in green space. Blue space is no different.
In fact, it may just hold the trump card when it comes to its restorative effects.
So far, science has shown that living by the sea offers multifaceted benefits. In fact there’s been considerable EU funding invested into research on the positive impact of spending time near water. It’s called Blue Health, and I find it totally fascinating.
The History Of Coastal Remedy, or Blue Health
For years, the beach and sea was believed to be medicinal and have considerable clout in the healing department.
Even though the beach was generally a no go area in the 16th Century, cold water was often used for a catalogue of ailments. These included anything from melancholy to heat stroke. The shock of the cold water served as a system reboot, often prescribed to stimulate the whole body.
In the 18th Century, women with a nervous disposition were repeatedly dunked into freezing sea water to the point of fear and suffocation. They were then revived with warm drinks and warming foot rubs. It was believed to re-establish equilibrium and resolve their anxiety.
Drinking sea water wasn’t unheard of either. It was often sweetened with honey or mixed with milk, I assume to make it more palatable. Its healing properties were considered to be a bit of a miracle worker for complaints such as Leprosy, Jaundice and Tuberculosis.
It seems physicians from centuries ago weren’t far off the mark, even if some methods of coastal healing were somewhat barbaric and weird. The good news is, if you’re not a keen swimmer, you don’t actually have to go in the sea to promote your physical and mental health. Nor do you have to get yourself to the point of suffocation to reap the benefits.
1. Living By The Sea Means Cleaner Air
It’s official. Sea air is cleaner and less polluted. According to science, the air in nature areas, like forests and areas of water, contains more negative ions compared to built up areas. These ions are our friends. They elevate serotonin, a mood regulator, and boost our day time energy levels.
Plus, coastal life means more sunlight because we’re more likely to spend time outdoors. Good news for the long, cold winter months, and for those who experience a dip in mood as the seasons change. Maybe it’s an argument for a little coastal holiday in low season to keep you mentally well.
2. Immune Boosting Sea Breeze
Did you know that plants and trees that grow near water give off something called Phytoncides?
Me neither, but we do now.
When we breathe these in, something amazing happens. Our white cells increase, meaning we’re more likely to fight off infections. Therefore, time near water is good for optimising our immune systems and staying well.
3. Vitamin Sea = More Vitamin D
People who regularly seek out blue space, or live near water, absorb more Vitamin D. While Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth, it also reduces the chance of inflammation and supports our immune system. It’s good for hypertension too. Not only does being near water feel relaxing, it’s actually physiologically calming, and will lower blood pressure, if sought out regularly.
4. Better Physical Health
It’s no surprise to find that good health is more prevalent in those who live near the coast, even among those who live in more deprived areas.
There’s a strong correlation between coastal life and exercise. Those who live near the sea, or other bodies of water, are more likely to get outside and get physical. Furthermore, moving in water coupled with breathing in the cleaner air is a winning combination. Not only does the lifestyle promote self care, it’s energising and invigorating.
5. Improved Sleep
It doesn’t stop there! A study from the National Trust found coastal walkers experienced a better quality of sleep compared to inland hikers. They were also assessed to sleep for a whooping 47 minutes longer following a coastal walk. Over a life time, that’s quite a bit of sleep. The findings were attributed to the gentle cadence of the waves that accompanied hikers who favoured littoral routes.
6. Coastal Life and Depression
Being near the ocean is restorative and uplifting. Regular time either by the sea, lakes, rivers or waterfalls leads to an increase in neurotransmitters, elevating mood and positivity.
Simply looking at the ocean, or other areas of water, promotes dopamine, a feel good hormone connected to happiness. Therefore, seeking out a bit of coast or water can be particularly effective in helping those who experience low mood or depression.
7. Living By The Sea Makes Us Calmer
Just being near the sea leads to a more relaxed state. It actually calms the nervous system. The ocean acts as a regulator, with the sea breeze and frequent, soothing lapping of the waves offering much solace and calm. In fact, simply hearing or seeing waves can make all the difference.
8. Work Satisfaction
While we can’t all have a sea view from our desks, it’s really good for you if you do.
People report being happier and more satisfied in their work when they had a sea view, compared to those who didn’t. While most us don’t have a sea view from their office window, it’s good to know that a natural environment, or some green space, is also beneficial. It’s those who were lucky enough to have coastal views that reported being the happiest.
At the very least, it should encourage us to take a lunch break and get outside.
How Much Time Near Water Is Enough?
To get the most out of being near or living by the sea, there’s a need for frequent exposure. Experts say this is the most important factor to reaping the advantages and protecting your mental and physical health. Visiting for around 2 hours per week can make all the difference. Even if you don’t live on the coast, there are rivers and lakes in lots of places. These will do the job too.
It seems nature really is healing, with blue space having the edge over other nature areas. It seems the sea, lakes, canals and rivers can make a difference to our physical and mental resilience and wellbeing. What do you think?
If you’d like to know more about Blue Health and the benefits of living by the sea, the University of Exeter has a good page, here.