Could you use a little beach therapy? You’re not alone.
As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, city planners are constantly looking for ways to create healthy and sustainable communities. One key focus has been on developing and protecting both “blue spaces” – i.e., anything involving water, such as the ocean, lakes, rivers, or even man-made features – and “green spaces” – i.e., areas covered in vegetation such as parks, fields, and forests.
Several research studies have linked both blue and green spaces to positive mental and physical health. However, at least one study found that living in areas with visible blue spaces – specifically the ocean – significantly reduced stress. However, they did not find the same benefits from green spaces.
The study was conducted in Wellington, New Zealand, and published in Health and Place. As the nation’s capital, Wellington is a highly urbanized area, and home to more than 400,000 residents. However, Wellington is also surrounded by both the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It is home to plenty of hills and forests as well.
Unlike other past studies that focused on how far residents lived from blue or green spaces, this study focused on how many residents could actually see the blue or green spaces from their neighborhoods. The study’s research team developed a map that showed which Wellington neighborhoods had view of green or blue spaces. Next, they matched the results with the New Zealand Health Survey – which tracks and measures the physical and mental health of adults throughout the country – to residents in those neighborhoods.
The results indicated that being able to see the water had a “statistically significant’ impact, lowering psychological distress no matter the age, gender, income, or neighborhood features. Unlike past studies, they did not find a similar effect with green spaces. However, in this study, “green spaces” included things like sports complexes and farm land, which may not have had the same effect as natural forests or botanical gardens.
While the New Zealand study focused only on the sea, other studies have found that rivers, streams, lakes, and even water features like fountains have positive effects on mental health.
In other studies, green spaces have been linked to both mental and physical benefits as well, but green spaces are a little more complicated. Some research has connected specific types of green spaces to good health – areas with biodiversity, green spaces around water areas, and naturally wooded areas. More than that, however, green spaces such as parks need to be easily accessible, well maintained, and well populated. Green spaces that are not kept up, are difficult to access, or have poor lighting, etc., actually can cause stress rather than reduce it.
As cities become more crowded, it’s imperative that residents find ways to enjoy the outdoors for their own mental well-being. Whether it’s taking a walk around a neighborhood park, a trip to the beach, or even just staring at a corporate fountain, all can help relieve the added stress that comes from the hustle and bustle of city life.
For more articles related to mental health, visit www.healthsoul.com/blog.