This story was first published on December 3, 2021. It was republished on June 8, 2022, for World Oceans Day. 

Summer is here and heading to the beach is a big part of that. Research shows it’s also good for us to see the ocean, and other beautiful blue spaces, regularly. 

According to research performed in Wellington, seeing blue spaces - which is any natural body of water like a lake or the ocean -  is linked to improved mental health.

The study, published in the Health and Place journal in 2016, looked at the impacts of blue and green spaces on the psychological distress levels of 400 people living in Wellington. 

Co-author Simon Kingham says they found being able to see blue space from your home, but not green space, was associated with lower psychological distress. 

“In that paper we talk about green space and blue space - green space is any 

trees, parks, land, and so on. And blue space is water. Mainly it includes the sea and lakes,” he explains. 

When you look at blue space and green space research, there’s two things people are looking at: 

  1. Mental health - what you can see and the importance of environments around you. 
  2. Physical activities - Are these places where you can get exercise? Eg. If you want to walk your dog and you live near a park where you can do that, you’re more likely to walk your dog. 

Simon: “What we found is that the more blue you can see, the less mental health problems.” 

The research team also accounted for socio-economic status, and how having a seaview generally correlates to having more money.

“It wasn't just wealthy people seeing the ocean and they’re healthier because they’re wealthy. Even when accounting for that, mental health seemed to be improved by being able to see the ocean,” he says.

Cultural sociologist Belinda Wheaton, an expert in ocean-human relationships in Aotearoa, specifically looks at how communities access blue spaces and the associated mental health benefits. 

She is particularly interested in why certain communities benefit more from that relationship than others - something which Simon and his team also touched on towards the end of their research.  They wanted more information on the mental health benefits of being able to see water from your home, and whether that should be factored into building affordable homes and social housing. 

Belinda: “Blue spaces can also be places that exclude people.” 

“There are beaches where we don’t all get access because they’re controlled by certain groups, or in some countries even owned by certain people. Pollution is also a big one, people can get sick from being in the water.”

She says it’s also important to remember people find different types of benefits from blue space, so accessibility needs to be prioritised. 

 “So some people will say the sand feels really special on my feet. If it feels good, then that’s a well-being benefit. Some people talk about just the way the light reflects on the water. It’s just something that makes people feel really good.”

This story is part of Re:’s Oceans Week, where we talk rāhui, diving, sunblock and more. See the rest of our Oceans Week stories here.

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