Why Walking in Blue Space is Good for Your Well-Being

Short, frequent walks around water can boost your mood.

young female walks along beach
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Science has long touted the physical and mental benefits of being in green space. Walking among the trees boosts your well-being. Living near leafy locales can help you live longer. But there’s more to nature’s prescriptions than just the greens of trees, leaves, and grass. Blues have benefits too, a new study finds.

Short, frequent walks in blue spaces can have a positive effect on well-being and mood, according to research led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal). Blue spaces include beaches, rivers, ponds, lakes and any other areas that feature water.

“There was a lot of research on the health benefits of green space, but not so much in blue space,” study coordinator Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of Air Pollution and Urban Environment at ISGlobal, tells Treehugger.

Nieuwenhuijsen and his research colleagues conducted many studies including this trial to see if a beach walk would improve mental health and mood. They did a similar study with green space, and wanted to repeat the research with blue space, he says.

During a one-week period, 59 adults spent 20 minutes each day walking in a blue space along a beach in Barcelona, Spain. Then, during a different week, they spent 20 minutes walking in an urban environment along city streets. In another week, they spent 20 minutes just resting indoors. Before, during, and after each activity, researchers measured each participant’s blood pressure and heart rate and asked questions to assess their mood and well-being.

The study was conducted as part of the BlueHealth project, a research initiative investigating links between urban blue spaces, climate, and health. The results were published in the journal Environmental Research.

“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,” Nieuwenhuijsen says.

The researchers didn’t note any cardiovascular health benefits, but Nieuwenhuijsen suggests this may be due to how the study was designed.

“The visits were fairly short and may not have been long enough to lead to health benefits as such from blue space, although there were some improvements from walking,” he says.

According to the United Nations, 55% of the world's population now lives in cities. The shift from rural to urban areas is expected to continue. By 2050, an estimated 68% of the Earth's inhabitants are expected to be urban residents.

"It is crucial to identify and enhance elements that improve our health—such as blue spaces—so that we can create healthier, more sustainable and more livable cities,” Nieuwenhuijsen says.

The results offer yet another reason to get outside in nature.

“It shows that mood and well-being can be improved by walking along blue space, and thereby improve mental health,” Nieuwenhuijsen says. “People should build into their lives walks along blue space, or in green space for that matter.”