All my life people have asked me how someone from a landlocked mountain state became interested in studying the ocean. The answer has always been surprisingly simple: there’s just something special about the ocean. For me, being near or around water elicits strong emotional responses, and many of my peers have expressed similar sentiments. Whether those are feelings of respect and fear, or awe and wonder, the water makes us feel something. This is reflected throughout human history in art, music, poetry, and culture. The ocean is a natural muse.
The link between blue spaces and well-being
To conduct the study, researchers used data from the cross-sectional BlueHealth International Survey (BIS) — organized by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health.
The 18-country analysis included 18,838 people from 14 European nations, as well as Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia. The survey also included respondents from the state of California.
The research team asked the study participants to report their experiences in the following categories:
current personal well-being
childhood experiences with blue spaces
current motivations to visit natural spaces
frequency of recent visits to blue and green spaces
The team also examined behavior concerning water quality, health and well-being outcomes, and demographic information.
In the childhood experiences section, the researchers asked the study participants to recall their exposures to blue space settings from birth to age 16. They also inquired whether blue spaces were easily accessible and if their parents or guardians were comfortable with the experiences.
After analyzing the data, the scientists found that more exposure to blue spaces during childhood predicted better subjective well-being in adulthood. They also determined that the results were consistent across all countries and regions.
“We found a positive direct link between childhood contact with blue spaces and reported adult well-being,” Valeria Vitale, lead author of the study and PhD candidate at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy.
“Our study showed that positive blue space experiences in the formative years of childhood may trigger enduring motivations to engage with natural spaces across the lifespan, facilitating more frequent nature visits in adulthood.”
Vitale noted that additional factors may be involved in how childhood experiences with blue spaces affect adult mental health outcomes and that other possible mechanisms may contribute to this link.
“Childhood blue space experience may increase familiarity and sense of safety toward those environments and natural spaces in general, through repeated exposures,” Vitale said.