Besides being a hobby, maintaining an aquarium at home has health benefits

A spiked blood pressure reading? Bad day at work? Mother-in-law paying a visit? Stressed out? You could opt for pills, a cup of strong coffee, music, yoga, conversation — or set up a fish tank and watch the fish glide by, say psychologists. Krishnasamy, a retiree does it. And believes caring for and watching the fish in his small glass tank gives a purpose to his life. “They don’t talk back,” he says, glancing at his wife.

Having an aquarium does qualify as a lovely hobby, but what about its health benefits? “Definitely soothing,” says Mohana Narayanan, Counsellor. “Energy-healing enthusiasts believe having this water body in the right position energises that direction.” After years of displaying fish in a tank in the living room, she and her college-going daughter believe you can train pet fish to sense human presence! “Especially flowerhorn and goldfish,” they say. “Use the aquarium to teach kids to be responsible for fellow beings, to cope with loss,” says Mohana. “My daughter cried buckets when we lost our first goldfish.” The daughter nods.

Don’t people buy ornamental fish as a decoration? Like those pictures in Harry Potter books? It looks like fish refuse to be mere mobiles adding colour to rooms, and have gone on to prove themselves as stress-busters and health-enhancers. Numerous studies show that watching aquarium fish going about their business can reduce anxiety and bring down your blood pressure. Fish win. That’s probably why doctors, dentists and school principals earmark prominent space for aquariums in their waiting rooms. Visitors have to wait long, go through a dozen tests!

Let’s check out the established benefits.

Medical

Aquariums with colourful inhabitants keep hyperactive kids engaged. Kids are curious, watch fish moving around, feel calmed, and stay away from mischief which, in turn, relaxes the adults around. Purdue University's Dr. Nancy Edwards and Dr. Alan Beck monitored Alzheimer's patients' appetite as they watched aquarium fish at meal times. In the aquarium area, patients stayed at the dinner table longer and ate 21 per cent to 27 per cent more food. Besides nutritional benefits, a decrease in physically aggressive behaviour was noticed among the patients. “I set up a fish tank for grandma when she had a stroke,” says Narendra. “She would wheel herself out every day to watch her fish “friends”, and was soon talking about them enthusiastically. “I’m sure they helped her stay positive.”

Aesthetic

Can’t deny an organic fish installation can give your room a different décor. One store used a stretch-tank as a room divider to stunning effect. Kids came just to watch the fish move across the room. A fish display is a constantly changing, living piece of art and brings vibrancy to rooms. The lighting creates atmosphere, and in the living room, will be the focal point, not the television!

Artistic

With the kind of accessories you get, setting up a tank is fun! The aquascape is yours to design, so bring out the artist in you! You can buy all sorts of plant life, rocks, figurines — stuff for your fish to discover and hide in. Remember though: you want to see the fish, so don't overcrowd your aquarium.

Educational

Get your kids involved — in choosing/feeding the fish, in decorating/cleaning the tank. Help them learn pet care. Get them to research about aquariums. They could also learn names, write on fish habits, where they are found in the wild. The routine of feeding and maintaining fish is a lesson in discipline.

Pet-wise

Phew! Fish don’t bark, miaow, squawk, chirp, tweet or moo. They don’t need to be walked in pouring rain. Once you feed and change the water, they are pretty much on their own. You can leave them alone at home when you’re on short holidays. Set up an automatic feeding system, and they don’t whine.

Money-wise

Make money from your hobby! Become an expert, start a website, charge for advice! Give speeches in schools on “maintaining aquariums.” Breed fish (try with freshwater ones) commercially. You can also sell aquatic plants and rocks.

Sums up T. D. Babu, marine bio-technologist, “It’s scientifically proven that gazing at fish will reduce stress and blood pressure in adults and hyperactivity in children. It’s a good way to meditate. Hospitals, institutions and corporates should replace the television in their lounges with ornamental fish. Technology has made maintenance of aquariums very simple. So, go for freshwater ornamental fish, and choose co-existing species (guppies, catfish, goldfish, angels, freshwater sharks and mollies) rather than single fish such as arrowana which are predators.”

FISH FOR FACTS

* One who keeps an aquarium is an aquarist.

* If maintaining a fish tank is too much stress, pay a professional and reap the benefits.

* Gazing at fish controls muscle tension and pulse rate in elderly subjects.

* In the 2004 Purdue study, patients demonstrated a 12 per cent reduction in self-reported pre-treatment anxiety.

* In a 1985 study of dental patients, contemplation of an aquarium produced significant increase in relaxation in comparison to a control group