According to a recent study, published in Health and Place; Volume 59; September 2019, people in lower socio-economic classes, living less than one kilometer from the coast, enjoy better mental health than people living inland. Joanne K. Barrett, did a retrospective study, comparing self-reported mental health status with proximity to the coast. The study also noted that there was no significant effect in those people in higher economic classes, who lived close to the sea.
Another study, done in Wellington, New Zealand, showed that being able to see the water, significantly reduced psychological stress. In Canada, researchers found an association between proximity to the water and lower mortality rates in urban populations.
There was a suggestion that the effect is common to all-natural environments. “Green space” proximity, closeness to forests and wild areas, though, is not as consistently associated with improved mental health scores. Yet time spent in a forest has been demonstrated to lower pulse rate and blood pressure, to enhance sleep, decrease anxiety, and reduce pain. A picnic in a small urban park decreases cortisol levels in the body, the hormone associated with stress.
But it is the oceans of our world that seem to calm and relax us. Why are we drawn to the water? What is it about the “blue space’, as they call it, that soothes the mind? The study indicated that both mental and physical health were improved in individuals living near the coast. One researcher has suggested that coastal environments provide more opportunities for increased social contact and physical activity with resultant stress reduction.
Standing on the shore, listening to the soft, slap, slap, slap of the waves on a clear day, your mind wanders. The salt air carries the smell of seaweed and the sounds of seagulls crying, the distant ringing of bell buoys. The blue sky meets the grey water at a point, far away. White sails dot the horizon, and a freighter churns along through the sea. In your imagination, you are leaning out to windward on a sailboat, heeled over to catch the wind. Or you are simply drifting, like seaweed in the current.
Whatever the cause, living close to the ocean, or at least having access to the coast, helps keep us stable. As the evidence mounts up, the need to maintain and protect our coasts becomes obvious. We must preserve the beauty of our environment. And we must offer the peace and restoration it gives us to all people, no matter what their class may be.