Blue Spaces offer more than a fun day at the lake or hanging ten at the ocean. They offer a variety of health benefits and visiting blue spaces should be part of a healthy routine, but what exactly are they?
Blue spaces are bodies of water and areas near bodies of water. This can include lakes, rivers, beaches, bays, landlocked seas, and more. Various studies have found that these blue spaces provide physical and mental health benefits. While it’s important to also spend time in green spaces and your specific comfort nature spaces, blue space should also play a role in your nature experiences. When compared to green spaces, blue spaces impact health differently.
A 2020 report from the UK’s Environment Agency found that blue spaces significantly impact mental health. Those who spend more time near blue spaces are happier, have lower levels of stress, and feel more connected to the world around them. Not only that, but spending time at blue spaces also increases opportunities to socialize and build community. In the modern era where our stress levels are higher than ever and many people feel isolated and lonely, heading to a nearby body of water can help!
If you want to experience the physical and mental health benefits of blue spaces, consider adding blue care to your lifestyle. Blue care, also called bluehealth, is a subset of nature therapy that champions the power of water to heal issues of all kinds: mental, physical, behavioral and social. Proponents contend that time spent near, in, and on healthy waters can have fantastic health benefits.
Nature Activities in Blue Spaces
There are so many different ways that the healing power of our blue spaces can be harnessed to promote and maintain human wellbeing. As you can imagine, the types of nature activities that fall under the umbrella of blue care are as varied and vast as our planet’s blue spaces. They include:
- Scuba diving
- Beach/coastal walks
- Wildlife watching
- Water-based or aquatic therapy
An easy way to add blue care into your weekly routine is to choose one of these nature activities, a body of water nearby, and schedule time to do that nature activity at that body of water within the next week.
Curious about how to make time for nature? Download my free ebook on how to be less stressed by getting out into nature this week.
Health Benefits of Activities in Blue Spaces
These various water-based activities can be used to help solve a variety of health issues and improve mental wellbeing. Some of them, such as scuba diving, boating, surfing, and swimming, provide specific health benefits.
Scuba diving with whale sharks is used as a method to help veterans dealing with PTSD. Mike Hilliard, a divemaster who is also a former army sergeant, described how traditional interventions like medication and exposure therapy had only made his PTSD worse, and he was considering ending his life until he found scuba diving. He described its profound impact on him eloquently: “Seeing the fish, hearing the ocean — there is a complete innocence about it. There are no bad memories in the water. Everything just wants to live. It made me want to live again.”
Boating therapy, or therapeutic sailing, is another popular form of experiential blue care therapy. Organizations like Sail to Prevail allow disabled individuals, both adults and children, to overcome adversity and boost confidence and self-esteem through responsibility and leadership. It’s also used as an intervention for addicts in recovery, allowing them to build skills necessary for sobriety in an environment that helps them overcome challenges, develop mindfulness, and make decisions with consequences.
Surfing also offers more benefits than just hanging ten. A 2020 scoping review of the qualitative and quantitative research that currently exists on surf therapy, which found a wealth of evidence to support the idea that this physical activity is “a means of improving both physical and psychosocial health outcomes” for the people who use it.
And for those who aren’t feeling up to activities so adventurous, just being in the water—swimming, exercising, or simply floating—can be hugely beneficial. The buoyancy of the water allows for a greater range of motion in the water than on the land, which is why so many seniors and people with disabilities see such a benefit from aquatic therapy. The hydrostatic pressure of the water can decrease pain, increase circulation, lead to better mental health, and even serve as a kind of passive massage for sore muscles—and it dampens tactile sensory information to the brain, making a float or swim a huge source of calming energy for many people.
If you don’t live near a natural body of water, you can still experience some of the benefits of blue spaces by going to an aquarium. Just make sure it has a lot of biodiversity and looks similar to other natural spaces!
A 2015 systematic review used aquariums to look specifically at the influence of biodiversity within natural environments on human health. It found that the higher the species richness in these spaces, the greater the calming and stress-reducing benefits were for the viewers. Viewing aquariums with high biodiversity was associated with greater reductions in heart rate, leading to better physical health, and greater increases in self-reported mood.
Urban blue spaces can also have similar health effects, though this is a more subjective wellbeing form. Urban planners and public health officials with a blue mind can help add more natural settings, including bodies of water to urban spaces. Bodies of water can also lead to less air pollution, obesity, and health problems in later life, all of which are more prevalent in urban areas. It also increases childhood exposure to blue spaces.
Blue spaces are not only great for human health, they are also have a positive impact on environmental health.
A 2009 study finds health and wellbeing on the coasts and near water made some highly relevant observations about the symbiotic relationship between the health of our blue spaces and our own health. It observed that spending time in blue spaces didn’t just improve human health and adult wellbeing; it increased people’s understanding of the threats to our coasts and their desire to be a part of the preservation process. Simply put: “We neglect these human health aspects of our coasts at our peril.”
Spending time in blue spaces is great for your physical and mental health as well as slowing climate change.
Interested in learning more about how blue spaces–and nature instead of urban environments–can help you be healthier and less stressed? Download my free ebook. When you download the ebook, you’ll also be added to my email list and will receive weekly advice on how to benefit from nature’s healing properties.