Taking a walk near one of these can improve your mental health drastically

Photo: Kate Joie

Roughly 60% of the average adult body is made up of water. Perhaps that’s why, according to a new study, short walks along “blue spaces” (beaches, lakes, rivers, etc) may greatly improve one’s mental health, overall mood, and well being.

To be clear, just one stroll probably won’t get the job done. According to the research team from The Barcelona Institute for Global Health, short walks along the water should be indulged in frequently to fully reap the mental rewards.

There’s just something about the crashing of waves or flow of river water that naturally puts our minds at ease. There have been tons of studies released recently that found spending more time in “green spaces,” such as forests and parks, improves mental health and mood as well. But, this research just goes to show that you don’t have to necessarily go green to beat the blues.

In total, data on 59 adults were used for this project. For a full week, each participant was asked to take a 20-minute walk each day close to a blue space. Then, another full week was spent walking around urban areas each day. Finally, during the third week, each adult didn’t take any walks and instead was told to simply relax inside. 

The study was conducted in Barcelona, Spain, so the blue space route assigned to participants was a trail along a gorgeous Barcelona beach, and the urban route was a trek through Barcelona’s city streets. Also, before and after each daily walking/relaxing session, researchers took blood pressure and heart rate readings from participants. Surveys were used to assess each person’s overall mood and wellbeing.

“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,” comments study coordinator Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment, and Health Initiative at ISGlobal, in a press release

After walking along the beach in Barcelona, participants all universally reported feeling better, more at peace, and more vital.

The study’s authors also looked out for any cardiovascular benefits among experimental conditions but didn’t note anything significant. However, they theorize that finding may have more to do with the research’s approach than anything else. 

“We assessed the immediate effects of taking a short walk along a blue space,” explains lead study author Cristina Vert. “Continuous, long-lasting exposure to these spaces might have positive effects on cardiovascular health that we were not able to observe in this study.”

At the very least, the research team says their findings strongly suggest that when it comes to feeling better not all walks are created equal. A walk in the city isn’t going to have the same effect as a stroll on the beach.

“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,” Vert says.

While this study is probably welcome news for residents on both the east and west coasts of the United States, people living in the middle of the country may feel a bit left out. If you don’t live within reasonable driving distance of a beach, keep in mind that a lake, river, or pond should provide the same benefits.

“According to the United Nations, 55% of the global population now lives in cities,” Nieuwenhuijsen concludes. “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.”

The full study can be found here, published in Environmental Research.