Coastal living linked to better mental health, study suggests

British analysis finds lower-income individuals who live near the sea were less anxious or depressed than those living in cities far from water

The Georgia coast has beautiful scenery that can feel like another world. 1. Jekyll Island 2. St. Marys 3. Midway Historic District 4. Tybee Island 5. St. Simons Island 6. Brunswick

Living by the water can improve your mental health, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Exeter analyzed survey data from nearly 26,000 respondents to see if coastal living helps individuals who suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

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About one in six adults in England suffer from mental health disorders, the researchers noted. Depression and anxiety are more likely in people from lower income backgrounds. But their findings suggest that "access to the coast could help to reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities close to the sea."

The Exeter team used data from the Health Survey for England and compared people’s health in relation to their proximity to the coast: from those living about half a mile away to those more than 30 miles away.

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"Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders," said Jo Garrett, who led the study, which was published in the journal Health and Place. "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."

Brett Lay (left) and James Simpson take pictures in the waters off Tybee Island.


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Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, added: “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 maximise 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.”

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This isn’t the first time scientists have researched the effect of “blue spaces” — natural aquatic features such as lakes, rivers and coastal waters — on individuals.

According to Psychology Today, researchers around the globe have studied the psychological response to blue space. They found:

  • 2018 study from Hong Kong showed that people who regularly visited blue spaces in their free time reported greater well-being, compared to those who didn't make such visits. They also had a lower risk of depression. Likewise, another recent study, this one from Ireland, found that better views of the sea were associated with lower depression scores in older adults.
  • review of 35 earlier studies, led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, showed that interacting with blue spaces had a positive impact on mental health and stress reduction. Being around blue space was also linked to greater physical activity—and that, in itself, can help further enhance well-being and reduce the risk for depression.
  • Some studies have focused on how participating in outdoor aquatic activities (such as fly-fishing, kayaking, and surfing) may help people with specific health challenges (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, and breast cancer). Overall, the studies suggested that many participants benefited both psychologically and socially.