Beach Day!

It's Not Just Green Spaces That Matter — "Blue Spaces" Change Kids Outcomes Too, Study Says

Time near natural bodies of water has long-term mental health benefits.

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Beautiful family walking on the beach
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There’s always been something intangibly therapeutic about bodies of water. In addition to being fun places to fish, swim, boat, or simply look at, the multisensory experience of taking in what is referred to as “blue spaces” can do wonders for one’s psyche. And now there’s emerging evidence to back some of those anecdotal presuppositions as researchers have begun to link positive childhood experiences in blue spaces to better mental well-being in adulthood.

Published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the research based on data from 18 countries found that adults with better mental health were more likely to report having spent time playing in and around coastal and inland waters as kids, and they tended to visit natural settings more as they got older.

Surveyors collected responses from over 15,000 participants, who were asked to recall their blue space experiences as far back as possible from the time they were 16 years old. How often they visited blue spaces, how local the spaces were, and how comfortable their parents were with them playing near water were all recorded.

In an effort to better understand how childhood nature experiences are associated with well-being later in life, surveyors also asked about more recent contact with both green and blue spaces over the previous four weeks, and mental health over the last two weeks.

And with it looking as though the benefits of time in blue spaces extend into adulthood, it might be wise for parents to put an even higher priority on swimming lessons and water safety classes.

“Water settings can be dangerous for children, and parents are right to be cautious. This research suggests though that supporting children to feel comfortable in these settings and developing skills such as swimming at an early age can have previously unrecognized life-long benefits,” study co-author Dr. Leanne Martin from the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health said in a release.

To test the consistency of relationships between blue space experiences and mental well-being across different countries and cultures, four alternative conceptual models were tested. The pattern of associations was consistent across countries, leading researchers to conclude that the links found in the study may be iterative.

Because surveys such as the one undergirding this study are highly subjective in nature and rely on childhood recollections, further longitudinal studies are required to confirm the soundness of these insights. But it’s a solid enough start and if that’s enough to help you justify a family trip to the beach, then more power to you.

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