There’s a reason why we’re drawn to the ocean. According to a new study from the University of Exeter, living close to the sea could support better mental health, particularly in the poorest urban communities.
The research, published in the journal Health and Place, used survey data from nearly 26,000 respondents, making it one of the most detailed investigations ever conducted into the wellbeing effects of coastal living.
After taking other related factors into account, the study revealed that living less than 5 km from the ocean was associated with better mental health and that this effect was most pronounced in people from low-earning households.
Approximately one in six adults in England suffer from mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and these are far more likely in people from poorer backgrounds.
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Previous research at the University of Exeter has revealed that self-reported general health is higher among populations living closer to the coast. These new findings suggest that access to the coast could help to reduce mental health inequalities as well.
The study is part of the BlueHealth project and used data from the Health Survey for England to compare people’s health with their proximity to the coast; from those living less than 1 km away, to those more than 50 km (31 miles) away. Its findings add to the growing evidence that access to blue spaces—particularly coastal environments—might improve health and wellbeing.
Dr Jo Garrett led the study and believes the results could have important implications. She said: “Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders. When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income.”
The report represents the first time the benefits of coastal living have been demonstrated at such a detailed level according to income, and comes as Natural England prepares to open access to all of England’s Coast Path by 2020. With everywhere in England within 70 miles of the sea, more people could harness the wellbeing benefits of living near to the coast thanks to improved access.
Dr. Mathew White, environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, said: “This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces. We need to help policymakers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments.”