Spending time around ‘blue spaces’ may result in better mental health in adulthood

Experiences of nature in our childhood may have an impact on the mental well-being of our adulthood.

October 17, 2022 03:56 pm | Updated 03:56 pm IST

Representational image: People who recalled having spent time around rivers and lakes during their childhood place greater intrinsic value on natural settings. 

Representational image: People who recalled having spent time around rivers and lakes during their childhood place greater intrinsic value on natural settings.  | Photo Credit: PRASAD RVS

Spending time around natural parks and wooded areas have proven to be beneficial for mental health in adulthood. Studies have shown that being surrounded by ‘green spaces’ can reduce stress. 

However, the importance of being around water bodies or ‘blue spaces’ andthe effects of being exposed to such environments are not well researched.

Now, a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology has collected data from the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS), a cross-sectional survey coordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

The data from 18 countries (14 European and 4 non-European countries) shows that people who recalled having spent time around rivers and lakes during their childhood place greater intrinsic value on natural settings. They also tend to spend more time in nature during adulthood which results in improved mental well-being. 

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“Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational natural experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health,” Valeria Vitale, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

The scientists analysed responses from over 15,000 people who had spent the first 16 years of their life near or around a water body.

They assessed the respondents’ nearness to the water body, how frequently they visited the spot, how comfortable their parents were with them playing in these settings, more recent interaction with green or blue spaces over the last four weeks and their mental health over the last two weeks.

Dr. Leanne Martine, another author of the study, said that though water bodies are normally considered dangerous for children, the research suggests that enabling them to feel comfortable in such settings and developing skills such as swimming at an early age can have ‘unrecognised life-long benefits’.

Explaining the significance of the study, study co-author Dr Matthew White said that it was ”adding to our growing awareness of the need for urban planners and local bodies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe, accessible access to natural settings for the healthy mental and physical development of our children.”

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