Living by the sea is good for your health

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2012

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Sick people have been sent to the seaside for centuries and now a study has proven that living by the coast is good for your health.

Bad news for inland folk, good news for the majority of New Zealanders, as about 65 per cent of Kiwis live within five kilometres of the coast.

The study, published in the Health and Place journal this week, examined census data to determine how health varied across England.

After adjusting for age, sex, greenspace density and socio-economic factors, there was an increase in people reporting good health the closer to the coast they lived. The reporting of the link was also stronger among poorer communities.

However, the problem for poorer communities - in New Zealand as in Britain - is getting a financial toehold beside the sea.

Geography professor and director of the GeoHealth Laboratory at the University of Canterbury, Simon Kingham, said that, because living by the sea was seen as desirable, it was therefore more expensive. "Thus you often find wealthier people living nearer the sea. We know that people with greater income generally have better health and therefore you would possibly expect people living nearer the sea to be healthier."

The McDowell family of Titahi Bay are evidence of a fit and healthy coastal lifestyle, but it's a life they say they could never have afforded in a big city.

Liam McDowell and wife Margaret have raised three boys, now in their early 20s, at Titahi Bay. All had a clean bill of health thanks to the active lifestyle that came with living by the beach, Mr McDowell said.

"We all belong to the surf lifesaving club and we do healthy things, we walk and we swim. We don't smoke, we only drink very moderately, [plus there's] the sunshine, the fresh air."

They moved to their beachfront property a decade ago, having previously lived one street back.

"This is like being on holiday all the time, it's sort of like being at a bach.

"It's definitely relaxing," Mr McDowell said.

Prof Kingham said research had found that people living near green space, in areas such as parks, had better health across all socio-economic groups.

"Proximity and access to the sea is an extension of this, and is something we . . . are currently looking at in the context of New Zealand."

The British research, from Exeter University, suggests that access to "good" environments such as the sea may help reduce inequality in health between the rich and the poor.

Earlier studies found that people who live near parks and green spaces tend to be healthier and live longer that those who don't.

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But up until now there was little evidence that spending time by the coast led to better health and wellbeing - although people who do like to live beside the seaside knew that all along.

- The Dominion Post

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