Short and frequent walks along areas that feature water, such as beaches, lakes, or rivers, can boost mental health, a new study shows.
The study, aimed at studying the psychological and cardiovascular responses to exposure to “blue spaces”—an urban design term for visible water such as harbors, rivers, canals, lakes, or even fountains, was led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and published in the journal Environmental Research.
The research is based on data from 59 healthy office workers in Barcelona, Spain.
“We saw a significant improvement in the participants’ well-being and mood immediately after they went for a walk in the blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting,” said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of the Urban Planning, Environment, and Health Initiative at ISGlobal and coordinator of the study, in a statement on July 6.
Since 55 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, blue spaces can help create more sustainable and livable cities, Nieuwenhuijsen said. Cristina Vert, a leading researcher of the study, said since urbanization is increasing, the study can help urban planners design cities that nurture people’s health and happiness.
For one week of the study, each participant spent 20 minutes on each of four days walking in a blue space, while during a different week, they spent the same time walking in an urban environment. Another week, the participants rested indoors.
The blue space route was along Barcelona’s seafront and out to the breakwater in front of the Somorrostro beach; the urban route was along city streets. The findings are based on data from a questionnaire that analyzed the well-being and mood of each participant, and blood pressure and heartrate were measured after each activity.
“Specifically, after taking a short walk on the beach in Barcelona, participants reported improvements in their mood, vitality, and mental health,” the Barcelona Institute for Global Health said.
The research showed similar cardiovascular health benefits from walking by the water versus walking in urban spaces, although the authors said that might be due to the design of the study.
“We assessed the immediate effects of taking a short walk along a blue space,” Vert said. “Continuous, long-lasting exposure to these spaces might have positive effects on cardiovascular health that we were not able to observe in this study.”
Many studies have already indicated the benefits of green spaces, such as parks and community gardens. Other new research published in Environmental International’s current edition said that living close to natural green spaces helps formula-fed infants.
“Not every infant can be breastfed,” Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatrics professor at the University of Alberta and one of the researchers of the study said in a statement.
“This is one of the first pieces of evidence for a nature-related intervention that could possibly help promote healthy gut microbial composition in infants who are not breastfed.”
This research is based on data from 355 4-month-old Canadian babies, and their postal codes were cross-referenced for green natural spaces around them such as natural forest, grasslands, wetlands, lakes, rivers, and ravines.