Positive Childhood Experiences In Blue Spaces Linked To Better Adult Well-being


Two kids are going for a swim. People with no access to water bodies are more vulnerable to mental health issues in contrast to those with frequent access. PHOTO BY MAPLES IMAGES VIA SHUTTERSTOCK

Living near water as a child is linked to better adult well-being and mental health, a new study reveals.

Researchers looked at areas known as blue spaces, such as rivers, lakes and coasts. They analyzed the data from over 15,000 people across 14 European countries and four non-European countries. These were Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and California.

Participants recalled their experiences in blue spaces between the age of 0-16. They answered questions about how close they lived to blue areas, how often they visited them, and how comfortable their parents or guardians were with them playing in these settings.

A girl pushes a Krathong on the Chao Phraya River during the Loy Krathong festival in Bangkok. Believers float Krathongs during the festival, which is held as a symbolic apology to the goddess of the river. PHOTO BY CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM/GETTY IMAGES
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They were also asked about their recent contact with green and blue spaces over the last four weeks and how their mental health improved over the past two weeks.

The results, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that those who spent more time near these areas tended to value natural settings and visit them more often as adults.

These people consequently reported to have mental health issues in adulthood than those who had minimal contact with blue spaces as children.

There is plenty of evidence that shows how spending time in green spaces, such as parks and forests, can reduce stress and improve mental health, but there is much less research on the benefits of blue spaces.

“In the context of an increasingly technological and industrialized world, it’s important to understand how childhood nature experiences relate to wellbeing in the later part of life,” said Valeria Vitale, PhD candidate in social phycology at Sapienza University of Rome, and lead author of the study.

“Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health.”

Dr. Leanne Martin, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, and co-author of the study, said: “Water settings can be dangerous for children, and parents are right to be cautious.

“This research suggests though that supporting children to feel comfortable in these settings and developing skills such as swimming at an early age can have previously unrecognized life-long benefits.”

A boy plays in the water at Baker Beach near the Golden Gate Bridge March 25, 2005 in San Francisco, California. Natural settings and water bodies affect the mind positively, and the urban planners should take this consideration into account. PHOTO BY JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES.
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Dr. Mathew White, a senior scientist at the University of Vienna, and co-author of the study said: “The current study is adding to our growing awareness of the need for urban planners and local bodies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe, accessible access to natural settings for the healthy mental and physical development of our children.

“If our findings are supported by longitudinal research that tracks people’s exposures over the entire life course would suggest that further work, policies and initiatives encouraging more blue space experiences during childhood may be a viable way to support the mental health of future generations.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

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