July 07, 2020
Mental health concerns are still at an all-time high as countries across the globe continue to battle the effects of the coronavirus.
Psychology experts have offered advice to help keep feelings of anxiety and isolation in check during these stressful times, like continuing to exercise or spend time outdoors.
While practicing social distancing is a must and there are still some restrictions on where you are allowed to go, nature continues to be an important respite for people everywhere.
One new study suggests that short, frequent walks along bodies of water are particularly good for our mental health. The study included 59 adults who were asked to take 20-minute daily walks for two weeks and then rest for 20 minutes a day for the third week. One week the participants walked along a beach in Barcelona and the other week, the route was along city streets.
Before, during and after each activity, researchers measured the participants' blood pressure and heart rate and used questionnaires to assess their well-being and mood.
"We saw a significant improvement in the participants' well-being and mood immediately after they went for a walk in the blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting," Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of urban planning, environment and health initiative at ISGlobal, said.
The study wasn't able to discern any particular cardiovascular health benefits. According to the researchers, the reason may be the design of the study which only measured immediate effects instead of long-term exposure.
"Our results show that the psychological benefits of physical activity vary according to the type of environment where it is carried out, and that blue spaces are better than urban spaces in this regard," said ISGlobal researcher Cristina Vert, the lead author of the study.
Studies on the effects of blue spaces on our health have been limited, but an earlier ISGlobal review of 35 studies found that exposure to blue spaces is beneficial for mental health and promotes physical exercise.
Previous ISGlobal studies also have found many health benefits associated with green spaces including lower risk of obesity, better attention capacities in children and slower physical decline in older adults.
Residential green space in one particular study was associated with a lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
"According to the United Nations, 55% of the global population now lives in cities," Nieuwenhuijsen added. "It is crucial to identify and enhance elements that improve our health – such as blue spaces – so that we can create healthier, more sustainable and more liveable cities."
In Philadelphia, the health benefits of greening vacant lots have been studied for years, however, little attention has been focused on the blue spaces in the city.
The study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health was published in Environmental Research.