Living Near Water Boosts Mental Health

CC BY 2.0. Virginia State Parks

People who live within view of water have lower psychological distress, study finds.

For most of my life, I've had the great fortune of living near water. I grew up on a small, clean lake in Muskoka, Ontario's famed cottage country, and now reside in a coastal town on the edge of Lake Huron. I've always said to my husband that I feel the need to be close to water, that it's an integral part of my being and makes me feel happy and peaceful. I know other people feel the same way about forests, mountains, and deserts, recognizing deep personal affinities to natural spaces.

So, it was with great interest that I discovered a study validating my feelings about water. Researchers from New Zealand and Michigan State University (MSU) have found that living within view of water -- which was referred to as "blue space" -- has a real, quantifiable benefit to mental health.

The study took place in Wellington, New Zealand, a city that is home to a half-million residents and has the Tasman Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The researchers gathered data on the visibility of blue and green spaces using topographical data. They compared it to results from the New Zealand Health Survey, using data from the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, which "has proven to be an accurate predictor of anxiety and mood disorders."

The conclusion?

In the words of Amber Pearson, study co-author, "Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress," even after factoring in residents' health, wealth, age, gender, and neighborhood crime rates.

Surprisingly, blue space had a stronger positive effect than green space. Pearson surmises:

"It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human-made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests. Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different."