New Study Finds Living Near The Sea May Boost Mental Health

Image by Jean Marie Biele / Stocksy

We already know that green space has immense effects on our mental health—interacting with nature can relieve anxiety and depression, and studies have shown that simply coming in contact with the earth (like walking barefoot) can significantly enhance mental well-being. But a new area of consideration is blue space, the interaction with coastal environments, that seems to be rather helpful for our mental well-being. 

This new offshoot of the typical "green space" may seem obvious—after all, don't you feel a little calmer after taking an inhale of that salty ocean air, listening to the waves crashing against the shore, or feeling the sand swish between your toes? Typing that sentence alone just made me breathe a little easier. But now, there's tangible research from the University of Exeter that says exposure to blue space can actually boost mental health, especially among low-income households. 

The new study, published in the journal Health and Place, analyzed the Health Survey for England results from 26,000 adults and compared how close these respondents lived to the coast. What they found is that adults who lived less than 1 kilometer from the coast reported better mental health than individuals who lived greater than 50 kilometers from this blue space. 

It's clear that access to the sand and sea has way more to offer than a perfect summer vacation spot. But even more intriguing, was that this correlation between mental health and coastal living was especially high among people with a low-income background. 

Although there's definitely a stigma around mental health that tends to deter people from regarding it as a legitimate health concern, optimizing our mental well-being is just as important as improving physical health. That being said, it's unfortunately true that low-income communities tend to experience health inequities not only for physical health but for mental health resources as well. These findings have the potential to help bridge the gap between these mental health inequities, as access to coasts could offer an easy resource (that's free, no less) to boost mental well-being. 

The leader of the study, Jo Garrett, Ph.D., agrees. She says, "Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders. When it comes to mental health, this 'protective' zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income."

Environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Mathew White, Ph.D., even emphasizes governments' responsibility in utilizing this science to promote health equality. "We need to help policy makers understand how to maximize the wellbeing benefits of 'blue' spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments," he states

So, the next time you're planning a mental health day, you might want to make the trek to the beach. Science says with sandy toes, you'll be worry-free. And if you're smack dab in the middle of a concrete jungle, it may be worth your while to invest in an ocean wave sound machine, at the very least. That has to count for something, right? 

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