EXETER, England — Spending time along a shoreline helps people relax in a variety of ways. Some prefer a quiet day at the beach enjoying tranquil ocean views, while others may make a brisk swim part of their morning routine. Now, a new study conducted at the University of Exeter finds that living close to the coast may have long-lasting benefits and supports better overall mental health.
This study is especially noteworthy because it is one of the most comprehensive investigations ever into the mental health effects of living near the sea. In all, researchers analyzed data collected from almost 26,000 respondents in England. The results were especially notable for people who may have the hardest time finding or affording resources to help improve mental health — those who reside in poorer urban neighborhoods.
After accounting for other possible contributing factors, the study concludes that living in a large town or city close to England’s coast is linked to improved mental health among people in the lowest earning households.
Mental health disorders are not a rare in condition in England, in fact, one in six English adults suffer from conditions such as depression or anxiety. Furthermore, there are likely even more people living in poorer neighborhoods suffering from mental health conditions that go unreported and unaccounted for. The study’s authors believe that greater access to the coast could make a significant difference in tackling England’s mental health statistics.
The data analyzed for the study was pulled from a national survey and compared respondents’ health to their proximity to the coast. People living as close as 1.9 miles away from the coast were considered, as well as individuals living as far as 31 miles away. These findings are just the latest in a growing base of research that indicates close proximity to “blue spaces,” or bodies of water, can improve overall health and wellbeing.
“Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders. When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income,” comments Dr. Jo Garrett, the study’s leader, in a release.
The study actually comes at an opportune time for the people of England, as the English Government is currently working towards opening full access to England’s Coast Path by next year. Virtually everywhere in England is within about 70 miles of the coast, so this expanded access should make it easier than ever for literally all English citizens to enjoy the benefits of time spent beside the sea.
“This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces. We need to help policy makers understand how to maximize the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments,” explains Dr. Matthew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter.
The study is published in the scientific journal Health and Place.