Nature’s prescription for health

Did you know that in North Devon, UK there is a “surfing for mental health” group? It may sound a bit cheesy but being by water is good for your mental health, and science is finding more and more evidence to back this up.

‘blue prescriptions’ or “nature-based interventions” are gaining more ground globally. Not all of us can afford to live by the sea, not all of us have access to a coastline and some of us don’t have to confidence to spend time actually in the ocean.

The ‘Godfather of water’ Wallace J Nichols purports that simply being near water is good for anxiety disorders, sleep, stress, grief and our attention span. He says its can also build resilience. This is not that groundbreaking considering how much of human life is supported by water. We spend the first 9 months of our lives suspended in water in utero, 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water (97% of it being the ocean), 70% of the human body is made up of water- it’s not really a coincidence that we feel such a positive connection to water. Also, it is literally impossible to survive without water for humans, for plants and for animals.

In 2013 an extensive study was conducted on happiness in natural environments which revealed some interesting findings. The study, conducted with 20 000 smartphone participants, involved them being promoted at random intervals to rate their sense of wellbeing and their immediate environment. What emerged is that marine and coastal areas were found to be where people were the happiest. Furthermore, living within 1 kilometre of the coast is associated with improved mental health, the frequency of visits also plays a key role and it is found that people who visit the coast at least twice weekly for two hours a week is most beneficial for anyone. Even something as simple and beautiful as a sea views has far reaching positive effects on mental wellbeing.

Why is this so beneficial? Dr Mathew White (a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a programme researching the health and wellbeing benefits of blue space across 18 countries) says there are 3 ways by which the presence water is related to positive health benefits, happiness and general wellbeing. Firstly oceanic or aquatic environments have less polluted air and typically more sunshine, or at least voluntary exposure to it. Secondly, those who live near water tend to make use of this natural capital to keep active- strolls on the sea sand, surfing, swimming. Third, and probably the most controversial, is that water is psychologically restorative. White says time spent in and around water is more beneficial that those garnered from time spent in green environments, including a reduction in negative moods and stress.

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