Green nature is good for you, blue is better
"The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies."
It has long been known that contact with nature is good for our mental and physical health. Recent studies are providing more precise guidance. People who live in or move to greener areas have better mental health. Beyond happiness and well-being, this can improve attention, creativity, memory and even sleep. Nature provides involuntary stimuli, giving voluntary attention a chance to rest and recover. The health benefits of nature start at two hours a week and level off at 5 hours a week. This can be divided into amounts of a least 10 minutes each. The benefits are stronger if you feel a connection with nature, perhaps through gardening, photography or spotting wildlife. Contact with nature should be a free choice, and not under pressure or a doctor's orders. The quality of nature is important, such as really wild places or those enclosed providing a sense of security.
What is new is that marine and coastal areas (blue spaces) are twice as beneficial as green spaces such as mountains, forests, parks or even freshwater. The best is where both meet. This can even reduce some of the mental health inequalities driven by socio-economic differences, for instance in poor people living by the sea. The coast can have more patterns of change with tides, waves, sound and light than a park or forest, and opportunities to play in the sand or swim, building strong positive social experiences. Children with these experiences may have better mental health as adults. Ancient peoples often spent time in and near the water.
The strongest predictor of good mental health was not proximity or time spent in nature, but psychological connectedness to it, and this can be cultivated. Even looking at pictures of nature or watching nature documentaries can have some effect, increasing positivity and reducing boredom.
Source: Based on Catherine de Lange (2022), Into the blue, New Scientist No. 3395, pp. 39-41, 16 July 2022.
Last updated 15 August 2022