Being Around Water Could Make You Happier, According to Research

Pack some snacks and hit the road—we’re going to the beach!

Portrait of a mature female athlete with her surfboard with a confident expression
Photo: Getty Images / Trevor Williams

There's nothing more clarifying than looking out over the ocean. And no, we're not just talking about how the salt water seems to magically clear up our skin and sinuses. Something about vast water makes us feel small and puts things into perspective. No wonder people flock to the nearest body of water at the sight of a long weekend—it's literally a part of who we are.

"Most of the earth's surface is covered by water, and most of the human body is composed of water—two facts illustrating the critical linkages between water, health and ecosystems," states The World Health Organization.

It's no surprise that ample water in our days makes us better, and recent research supports it too. The BlueHealth Project is a four-year research initiative that sought to understand this link between water and wellbeing. Headed by Matthew White, a team of researchers dove into this phenomenon—surveying over 18,000 people across Europe. Their findings supported the connection between being around water and happiness. One study found that simply walking in a blue space (where water is visible) for 20 minutes a day immediately increased mood, compared to walking in a more urban setting. For those that may be unable to get outside due to health or mobility, another study found watching ocean ambiences on television reduced boredom and even subdued pain during some medical treatments.

As urbanization grows, so do public health concerns. People living in highly populated areas are more susceptible to chronic diseases (due to lack of physical activity) and poor mental health. Not to mention, urban sprawl also has nasty effects on the climate, including higher air pollution and lack of access to healthy drinking water. BlueHealth believes implementing blue infrastructure (accessible water elements) in city planning could be a solution to this formidable problem. Blue space in urban areas can help provide more opportunities for social connection and physical activity which, in turn, helps reduce stress and negative health implications. The project also provides resources to help developers implement blue space into city planning and join in moving urbanization toward a healthier future.

Being near water can help increase overall life satisfaction, and it might even help us live longer too. You may have heard of places that are considered "blue zones"—Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California. These five places house the highest concentration of centenarians on earth, and four of them happen to be near the coast. Coincidence? We think not.

Associations have been found between living in close proximity to water and life expectancy. One study tracked over one million Canadian subjects and found significantly reduced mortality rates in those living within 250 meters of the water—also noting potential protective effects against stroke and respiratory-related deaths (specifically in women and older adults).

Inland-dweller, don't fret. Visiting works too! Survey results from a new study published in Landscape and Urban Planning indicate frequent visits to the shore-line might also bolster feelings of relaxation and decrease stress. Blue space frequenters reported overall feelings of restoration—serving as a cognitive reset to help rest and heal your body.

Next time you set a reminder to drink your water, set one to get outside too. Even if you can't afford a beachfront home in Malibu (like most of us), the benefits of water extend far beyond the coast. Walk around a local lake, take a lunch break in front of a bubbling fountain or soak up the view as you cross a bridge. The results might just surprise you.

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