The Link between Coastal Living and Mental Health
For many of us, a relaxing vacation means a trip to the sea. Many people also fantasize about retiring to the coast. There is good reason for that. Being by the water provides a sense of calm and wonder.
People who head to the beaches every year know this already. Now, however, there is new scientific research which shows that the ocean is more than just a fun place to visit. It turns out that living near water may actually improve mental health.
Researchers from Michigan State University recently conducted a study that used the city of Wellington, New Zealand as its test case. The team looked at people who lived in neighborhoods with views of either blue or green spaces. Those who lived by the coast saw the Tasman Sea or the Pacific Ocean. Those who lived inland were near forests or parks.
It turned out that people who lived near the water reported less psychological distress. They were happier, calmer and less likely to worry about things.
Many other research studies have looked at the connections between health and coastal living. Most have found better mental health among people who live by the water. However, the new study is the first to show that just being able to see the ocean from your home can increase your mental health.
Scientists have long known that being near nature makes people calmer. The Michigan State researchers wanted to see if that was true in big cities as well, where nature is less common.
The researchers looked at different areas of Wellington and compared their levels of reported mental health problems. They wanted to see if living near a green or blue area made a difference.
What they found is that there was no significant benefit for people living near green areas. However, there was a benefit for those who lived close to the ocean. Overall, people who lived by the water had better mental health.
U.S. studies of mental health lend support to these findings. Hawaii is ranked the No. 1 happiest and healthiest state in America. Many people there live by the ocean.
The Michigan State researchers admit that there are limitations to their study. There are also still many unanswered questions.
For one, the blue spaces in Wellington are more purely natural than the city’s green spaces, which are mostly parks and sports fields. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two. Also, it is unclear if living by bodies of water that are not oceans would be just as healthy as living near the ocean.
Perhaps living near large lakes would do just as much good as living near the ocean, the researchers say. If that turned out not to be true, the positive effects of living near the ocean might have to do with something other than the water itself. It could be that the “sound of waves and the smell of air passing over the ocean” are what calms people and makes them happier.
Still, the researchers argue that their findings do suggest possible ways to help treat mental illness. In April, the World Bank and the World Health Organization declared mental illness a global crisis. Both groups are prepared to strongly support efforts to improve mental health.
The researchers suggest that communities try building more affordable housing near water.
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