The subject of mental health continues to fascinate researchers. New data from a myriad of countries now suggests that some of the happiest adults either grew up near, or spent significant time around, bodies of water as a child.
For years, mounting evidence has suggested a reconnection with “green” areas like forests and parks can help clear the mind and promote more mental clarity. And now, in a similar vein, researchers believe that “blue” zones like waterways, oceanfronts, and lakes can have a similar effect.
Most interesting is that the research, which took place over 18 different countries with completely different cultures, remained consistent from group to group. In other words, culture means less than exposure to nature for many “happy” adults, all of whom credited their time around water and their positive childhood experiences for their relaxed lease on life.
Data came from the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS), a cross-sectional survey co-ordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health. The current analysis used data from over 15,000 people across 14 European Countries and 4 other non-European countries/regions (Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and California).
Respondents were asked to recall their “blue space experiences” as children and teens, including if they were locals, how often they visited the water if not a local, and how comfortable their parents/guardians were with them exploring on their own. The study also asked about recent contact with green and blue spaces over the last four weeks, and mental health over the last two weeks, as control barometers.
It’s important to expose more people to the bliss of life near the water, according to researchers
The research was clear: adults who recalled more blue zone experiences, and then made them a priority in their adult lives, enjoyed more mental wellbeing than other groups.
Valeria Vitale, Lead author and PhD Candidate at Sapienza University of Rome, said: “In the context of an increasingly technological and industrialized world, it’s important to understand how childhood nature experiences relate to wellbeing in later life.
“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 nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health.”
Dr Mathew White, Co-author and Senior Scientist at the University of Vienna, agreed, pointing out that city planners should emphasize water more in urban designs.
“The current study is 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,” he said.
“If our findings are supported by longitudinal research that tracks people’s exposures over the entire life-course, it would suggest that further work, policies and initiatives encouraging more blue space experiences during childhood may be a viable way to support the mental health of future generations.”