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Adults who spent childhood in ‘blue spaces’ have better wellbeing

A new study has identified better mental health among adults who reported spending time playing in blue spaces, such as coastal waters, rivers and lakes, during their childhood.

The research is based on data from 18 countries which took part in the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS), with this finding replicated in each nation included in the study.

Evidence already demonstrates that time spent in green spaces, such as forests and parks, is also associated with stress reduction and better mental health, but little is known about the impact of blue spaces.

trees on calm body of water under clear blue sky at daytime

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

‘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.’

15,000 people from 14 different European countries and four non-European countries/regions, including Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and California, provided data.

As part of the survey, coordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, respondents were asked to detail their blue space experiences during the ages 0-16.

Participants were asked about how local they were to these spaces, how often they visited them, and how comfortable their parents or guardians were with them playing in these settings.

They were also asked about more recent experiences within the last four weeks and mental health over the previous two weeks.

Results showed individuals who recalled more childhood experiences in blue space placed greater intrinsic value on natural settings in general and visited them more often as adults. This, in turn, was associated with better mental wellbeing in adulthood.

Dr Mathew White, Co-author and Senior Scientist at the University of Vienna, 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, it 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.’

Green spaces in England and Wales are worth £25.6bn each year, according to research funded by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Photo by Uniq Trek

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