STUDY: What Are the Health Benefits of Being by the Ocean?

Living or spending time near the ocean or other bodies of water has proven scientific health benefits including reduced stress. Looking at water views—or blue space—inhaling air near the shore, and even walking on sand may help calm and create meditative effects, reduce depression, seasonal affective disorder, and other mental health conditions.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live near the ocean, a lake or a river, science suggests you should consider booking your next vacation next to some clear, blue body of water. Specific benefits from looking at the ocean—from breathing coastal air and even walking in the sand—could explain Hawaii’s rank as the happiest and healthiest state in America in Gallup’s latest Healthways Well-Being Index.

Health Benefits of Being in Proximity to Water

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, wrote the bestselling Blue Mind to explore the benefits of spending time near bodies of water. He told Second Nexus the research stems from all branches of the sciences. He also indicated there are studies about water’s positive effect on people with PTSD, high-level anxiety and addiction.

That’s not to mention the positive effect being in water can have on the physical body, including the circulatory system, the bones and neuropsychology through sports, movement and opportunities for social encounters with family and friends. Nichols explained. “We tend to study disease more than we study health.”

In addition, there is a growing body of specific research related to the health benefits of maintaining a proximity to the water. Research from the University of Exeter in 2012 indicates that living close to and spending time near a beach correlates with people who have better health and sense of well-being.

A 2013 study published in Health and Place controlled for more factors than the Exeter study, but came to the same conclusion: “Individuals reported significantly better health when they lived nearer the coast.” The benefits applied to both physical and mental health, and researchers suggested policymakers consider the cumulative community effects.

In 2016, while studying the effects of natural views from people’s homes—known as both green and bluescapes, which included ocean views—on the human psyche, researchers in New Zealand stumbled upon an unexpected discovery:

“Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” according to Melissa Amber Pearson, co-author of the study. “However, we did not find that with green space.”

How Blue Space Improves Health

The MSU study first linked the visibility of water—or blue space—to improved mental health.

Nichols—a senior fellow at the Center for Blue Economy in Monterey, California, and research associate at the California Academy of Sciences—explained how blue space largely centers on removing excess stimuli from the brain.

“As you move from a loud distracting place—I call that a red mind place; there’s lots of research on stress from stimulation. You turn off your screens stand up and move—again, there’s lots of research about exercise being good for your brain. You have the waterfront and walk along the beach, removing even more distractions—as opposed to the city—and remove visual and auditory stimuli replaced with water sounds and blue space.”

Referencing the New Zealand study, Nichols finds the results intriguing but tries not to distinguish between blue and greenscape when encouraging people to get outdoors and away from distractions.

“I avoid competition between blue and green, mountains and ocean. For example, when people are looking forward to a weekend with friends, they often choose a crowded bar or restaurant with multiple TVs, overwhelming background music, an annoying waiter, and an overwhelming menu—that’s not a relaxing space. It’s overstimulating.” Nichols explains, “What blue mind offers are the components that lead to creativity: decompressing, novelty, and a mildly meditative state.”

This idea that the color blue advances creativity is supported by research published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal.

As for the other components of Nichols’ blue mind theory, Richard Shuster, PsyD and clinical psychologist said, “The color blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm and peace.”

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