Coastal living improves mental health

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Do you occasionally get the urge to rush to the nearest beach area when you feel you’re in the dumps and you simply want to escape the doldrums life brings? And, you tell yourself: “I have to get away from it all to keep me sane.” With the pandemic still upon us indefinitely, the urge must be greater today, “otherwise, I’ll go crazy,” you murmur to yourself.

​Recent studies have confirmed that “living near water may actually improve mental health.” According to Colby Itkowitz in an article published recently in The Washington Post, “there’s a sense of calm and wonder that comes from being by the water,” which may also explain the surge of a preference among tourists for a vacation to include the ocean or any body of water.

​Itkowitz wrote that researchers from Michigan State University evaluated residents of Wellington, New Zealand, the origin of their case study, who lived in areas with either blue (the Tasman Sea or the Pacific Ocean) or green spaces (forests or parks). The research done by Michigan State University claims that it is the first to show an affirmative link between mental health and coastal living.

​The research was originally intended “to determine the effect of nature on anxiety and depression, particularly in urban areas where there’s less natural beauty,” the article explained.

It has long been established that water or the sea as well as lush greenery encourage physical and social activity. Moreover, Itkowitz emphasized that natural surroundings have been known to reduce or even eliminate stress. In fact, green and blue spaces can create a calming effect in neighborhoods, thus, lowering what is known as psychological distress.

​Data gathered by the researchers coming from the New Zealand Health Survey, where they compared statistics on mental health to people’s domicile, found that “there was no significant benefit for people living near green areas, but there was for people who lived by the water.” It was the same, too, when the findings of the study were minced according to age, sex, and personal income.

​Despite the difference in location or country, similar studies on health in the US have revealed the same finding as proven by Hawaii that was ranked as the No. 1 “happiest and healthiest state in America,” according to the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Hawaii, as everyone is well aware of, thrives on coastal living, thriving on open, expansive bodies of water.

​Just like any research or study, it has its limitations. The researchers have noted, in particular, that the blue spaces (oceans) in Wellington are a better manifestation of raw grandeur compared to its green surroundings (parks and athletic fields). A thought likewise struck them whether the same results would still be true of other bodies of water that are not oceans.

​The researchers clarified that if the type of water will not make any difference, then other bodies of water, like large freshwater bodies (North American Great Lakes) may be evaluated. In case the type of water is really a determining factor, thus, the study may be expanded to include not only the visibility of the ocean, but other stimuli as well, like the effect of the sound of waves or the smell of air passing over the ocean.

​Mental health today has become a global concern, “a critical issue” much akin to HIV/AIDS some 20 years ago. It is because of this that the World Bank and the World Health Organization held a joint meeting in April this year in order “to create a global agenda for mental health, as well as to make significant investments.”

​The researchers, according to the article, gave some recommendations. For one, the private sector can invest in more affordable housing near the coast to promote a better psychological well-being. Another option, as suggested by the researchers, if living near the water is not possible, is coming up with vacation package that includes beach trips, and covered by health insurance.

​The next time you feel the need to recharge, be kind to yourself – pack some stuff and spend a relaxing, rejuvenating day at the beach. – NWI