Exposure to 'blue space' will boost your mental health
The beach has always been associated with relaxation - but now we have proof that it's good for us.
A New Zealand study has found living near the ocean could boost mental health.
The study, carried out by researchers at Canterbury University, Otago University, and Michigan State University in the USA, looked into the relationship between mental health and exposure to green and blue space for a sample of adult Wellingtonians.
In the study, ocean and water-related spaces were called "blue space", and parks, fields, forest and space mostly covered in vegetation was called "green space". The study was the first of its kind, according to the researchers.
The study found no strong association between green space visibility and improved mental health, but higher visibility of blue space was "significantly associated with lower psychological distress".
The research said humans had an innate favourability towards natural environments compared to urban environments because of the importance of key resources in green and blue spaces.
"As a result of this evolutionary connection, the human brain processes natural environments more efficiently than built-up environments, thereby further increasing opportunity for relaxation and combating the onset of stress," the study said.
Primary supervisor of the study Professor Simon Kingham said: "The more blue space you can see is associated with lower psychological distress".
"We know that different populations have different levels of mental health. Once we controlled for age, sex, income, you still see the amount of blue space have a positive effect on mental health.
"Interestingly, the research in New Zealand has not found strong links between green space and mental health," Kingham said. This may be because New Zealanders had access to a lot of green space, so it was not an effective differentiator.
The researchers gathered data for neighbourhood socioeconomic status, population density, and crime rates to account for other features of the urban environment that could be important in understanding the relationship between visibility of natural environments and mental health. Despite these features, blue space had a positive effect on all peoples' mental health.
K10 scores were used to measure psychological distress. Scores are values between 0 and 40, where higher values represent increased distress. Scores above 6 represent a moderate likelihood of a mental health disorder.
The scores showed psychological distress was slightly higher among women than men. The 15–44 year old age group exhibited the highest average psychological distress with a score of 6.4, and the 45-64 age group had the lowest score of 4.8. Distress was higher on average amongst Māori (8.9) compared to non-Māori (5.5).
The findings could have an impact on the designation of state housing and affordable homes in locations with ocean views, the researchers said. However, the blue space used in the study was more than 99 per cent ocean and researchers are yet to determine whether other blue space, such as lakes and rivers, also have a positive effect on mental health.