Doctors prescribe ‘blue therapy’
But many experts now believe that blue spaces, such as lakes and rivers, could be even more useful than green spaces.
“Blue spaces distract us from the everyday problems of life,” says Kate Campbell, a health psychology researcher at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. “The sound of crashing waves, the smell of salty air, the crunch of sand under our toes…Sensations relax our bodies and tell our minds to shut down.”
Campbell believes that humans have an “innate predisposition” toward the natural environment that once benefited us as an evolving species. Natural spaces that provided sustenance, comfort, and safety to premodern humans are likely to provide a similar sense of ease even in today’s urban world. Spending time in blue spaces, Campbell says, can feel like “coming home.”
The concept of blue health emerged nearly 10 years ago when researchers at the University of Sussex asked 20,000 people to record their feelings at random moments. They collected more than a million responses and discovered that they were human by far the happiest when they were in the blue spaces.
More recently, experts from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) found that spending time in blue spaces reduces the risk of stress, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Niamh Smith, a researcher at GCU and co-author of the study, says the team found an impact on mental and general health of spending time in blue spaces. Research has also linked time spent in blue space with a reduction in body mass index (BMI) and a lower risk of mortality.
“People really appreciates the therapeutic space“says Smith. “They love the sound of running water, having a reflective space to sit quietly, a place to clear their heads from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“We know that there are four main ways that blue spaces benefit health – through physical activity, reducing stress, providing space for socialization [and finally the] environmental factors that affect our health. For example, if the river is lined with trees, you have shade.”
In fact, blue spaces are so good for your health that your doctor can now prescribe them.
“My depression comes in cycles,” says Harune Akthar, speaking from his home in west London.
About ten years ago, the 27-year-old was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, ADHD, depression and anxiety.
“If I had a bad day, it would take me three to four days to get over it,” he says. “I slept and ignored everyone including my family – and I love my family. I wouldn’t eat. They would rarely see me.”
Over the years, Akthar tried a number of different therapies, but found none that worked for him. Then, in June of this year, the doctor referred him to Blue recipe a scheme run by the Wildbird and Wetland Trust (WWT), charity organization.
After the first day, he didn’t think it was for him. By the end of the second, he couldn’t wait to get back.