Adults That Lived Near Water As Kids Have Been Observed To Have Better Well-Being And Mental Health


According to a new study that took research from 18 different countries, adults with better mental health were more likely to have reported spending time near or coastal or inland water areas, like rivers and lakes as kids.

The authors, who studied ‘blue spaces,’ also explain that the findings were replicated in all of the 18 countries.

The growing evidence showed that by spending time in and around ‘green spaces,’ like woodlands and parks during adulthood, is associated with better mental health and stress reduction. But, there is much less known about the benefits of ‘blue spaces,’ or whether children are more affected by being closer to these water spaces later on in their lives.

The research team took data from more than 15,000 people from at least 14 European countries, as well as 4 other non-European regions, namely Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and California. This data was taken from the BlueHealth International Survey, which is a cross-sectional survey coordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

The respondents were made to recall their blue space experiences during the ages of 0 to 16 years, including how local they were, as well as how often they visited these areas. They were also asked how comfortable their parents and guardians were with them playing in these particular spaces, and if they had more recent contact with green and blue spaces within the last four weeks. They also inquired about their mental health over the last two weeks too.

What they found was that those who remembered more experiences in childhood that were around blue spaces seemed to place ‘greater intrinsic value on natural settings in general,’ and that they also tend to visit them more as adults. This was associated with having better mental wellbeing in adulthood as well.

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

The study findings were published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, also funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.

She added, “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.”

As for co-author and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter, Dr. Leanne Martin, she also acknowledges that water settings can be “dangerous” for children, and that “parents are right to be cautious.”

She says, “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.”

As for Dr. Mathew White, co-author and senior scientist at the University of Vienna, “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.”