Public health officials are recognizing the positive impact that lakes and waterfronts can have on people's well-being.

By Kelly Vaughan
December 17, 2019

Looking for another reason to take a beach vacation? As it turns out, spending time near blue spaces such as riverside trails, lakes, or waterfronts can improve mental health, particularly among city dwellers. "A few studies have shown that water bodies score just as well—if not better—in supporting psychological well-being as compared with 'green' nature," says Jenny Roe, professor of design and health and Director of the Center of Design and Health at the Architecture School at the University of Virginia.

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Research has shown that access to blue spaces "can make you happier, reduce your stress levels, improve your quality of life, and make you more sociable and altruistic," says Roe. Hydrotherapy, which includes the use of saunas, steam paths, and warm-water pools, has been used for years to treat certain conditions such as arthritis. Beyond just standing seaside and taking in the view, scientists also say that physical activity in blue spaces such as swimming, sailing, and fishing has perks too. A 2018 study found that physical water exercise can help treat individuals with PTSD, addiction, and depression.

Related: What Is Slow Living, and Why Is Everyone Suddenly Using This Term?

Now scientists are interested in understanding the emotional and psychological benefits of spending time in natural blue spaces. Roe and her team are using electroencephalography to assess "the neural signatures of different urban settings in people's brains and to identify whether immersive blue-space environments—including smaller water features such as rain gardens—can offer similar benefits to psychological well-being as our green space research has shown."

While more studies are needed to fully understand exactly how blue spaces can improve mental health problems, researchers are encouraged by the prospects.

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