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Study Shows Childhood Experiences around Water Leads to Greater Well-Being in Adulthood

Like green spaces, exposure to blue spaces in childhood manifest improved well-being in adulthood.

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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It is well-established that “green spaces,” like woods and grassy parks, have significant, long-term benefits on the physical and mental health of children who grow up around them. While we don’t know the underlying mechanisms behind this impact, the results have been replicated in numerous studies.

But what of bodies of water, also known as “blue spaces”?

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Valeria Vitale, PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome, explored that question in a recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vitale and her team examined survey responses from the BlueHealth International Survey coordinated by the University of Exeter’s European Center for Environment and Human Health. Responses from over 15,000 individuals across Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, and California were analyzed. The survey asked respondents about their blue space experiences up until they were 17 years old, including how often they visited the spaces, how local they were, and how comfortable their parents/guardians were with them playing in these spaces. The study also asked them about contact with green and blue spaces over the previous four weeks and their subjective mental well-being over the past two weeks.

Across all 18 countries, the results mirrored those of studies on green spaces. Positive experiences around blue spaces were positively associated with greater subjective well-being as adults. Vitale posited that the mechanisms behind this association are a matter of exposure to blue spaces leading to an intrinsic interest and joy in nature. “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,” Vitale said.

Mathew White, PhD, 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.”