Public-health and urban-planning experts have long recognized the well-being benefits of parks, trees, and other “green spaces.” A 2016 research review conducted by the World Health Organization concluded that green spaces can reduce morbidity and mortality among city dwellers in part by reducing stress and boosting “psychological relaxation.”
While water often features in these green spaces — either intentionally, as is the case with an installed fountain or pool, or coincidentally in parks or walking paths situated near rivers and other bodies of water — the “blue” elements of these urban greenscapes have tended to be glossed over in the health research.
“You can take almost all the green-space research, sub in the word blue, and find a lot of the same effects.”
But recently, the “Blue Health” initiative, a European research group led by scientists at the University of Exeter in the U.K., has found evidence that spending time in or around water may be just as beneficial to human health as spending time in green spaces.
“You can take almost all the green-space research, sub in the word blue, and find a lot of the same effects,” says Wallace J. Nichols, PhD, a marine biologist and former senior scientists at the non-profit Ocean Conservancy. “Green space is good, but add a pond or a fountain or a lakeshore and it’s better.”
Nichols is the author of Blue Mind, a book that explores the benefits of time spent in or around water. He says that being near water is naturally calming, which may help explain why so many of us seek out beaches or other water-adjacent destinations during our vacations. But water does more than combat stress or induce a state of relaxation. “Water is also a source of creativity and inspiration,” he says. “When you look at water, there’s what people describe as this soft fascination — something that is interesting and that holds your attention, but not in an information-rich way.”
“Water takes you away from distractions and simplifies the visual landscape.”
Why does water do all of this good work for us?
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