‘Blue spaces’ cure the blues: Study shows walking along beach improves mood, well-being

BARCELONA — Picture a favorite fantasy place or getaway spot. Does your mind drift to a shoreline? If so, you already know something about the benefits of “blue spaces.” We hear a lot about spending time in green spaces, but a new study shows that going blue also brings uplift during hard times.

Researchers with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) studied the benefits of different environments on mood and found that short walks near water are especially helpful in lifting a person’s mood. In other words, the best way to combat the blues is to spend time in blue spaces — near a beach, lake, river or even some fountains.

For the study, 59 participants were asked to spend 20 minutes a day doing certain relaxation activities over the course of three weeks. During the first week, participants walked in a blue space, specifically along a Barcelona beach. In the second week, the walks were taken along city streets. For the third week, participants simply rested indoors for the 20 minutes.

Researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure and heart rate before, during and after each of the 20-minute periods. Questionnaires provided information on emotional states involved in each day’s activities.

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“We saw a significant improvement in the participants’ well-being and mood immediately after they went for a walk in the blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting,” says study coordinator Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, in a media release. Nieuwenhuijsen is also the director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal.

In addition to mood, researchers say the data shows improvements in participants’ energy levels and mental health after the blue space activity.

Blue spaces good for the mind — and the body?

Although the study focuses on psychological changes, researchers won’t rule out the possibility that the benefits of blue space extend to heart health as well.

“Continuous, long-lasting exposure to these spaces might have positive effects on cardiovascular health that we were not able to observe in this study,” notes lead study author Crisina Vert, an ISGlobal researcher. “Our results show that the psychological benefits of physical activity vary according to the type of environment where it is carried out, and that blue spaces are better than urban spaces in this regard.”

Other ISGlobal studies have linked health benefits to green spaces. This new study adds another level of understanding about the mental health benefits of nature’s beauty.

“According to the United Nations, 55% of the global population now lives in cities,” warns Nieuwenhuijsen. “It is crucial to identify and enhance elements that improve our health–such as blue spaces–so that we can create healthier, more sustainable and more livable cities.

Study findings are published in Environmental Research.

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