Living near water during childhood is linked to better mental health and well-being in adulthood: study

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Using research from 18 countries, a new study finds that adults with better mental health are more likely to report spending time playing in and around coastal and inland waters, such as rivers and lakes. , when they were children.

The results were replicated in each of the 18 countries, say the authors who study “blue spaces”.

A growing body of evidence shows that spending time in and around green spaces such as parks and woods in adulthood is associated with reduced stress and better mental health. However, we know much less about the benefits of blue spaces or the role that childhood contact with these waters has later in life.

The team used data from over 15,000 people in 14 European countries and 4 other non-European regions (Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and California) – all collected from the BlueHealth International survey, a cross-sectional survey coordinated by the University of Exeter European Center for Environment and Human Health.

Respondents were asked to recall their experiences in the blue space between the ages of 0-16, including how local they were, how often they visited, and how helpful their parents/guardians were. comfortable with them playing in these settings, as well as newer contacts. with green and blue spaces for the past four weeks, and mental health for the past two weeks.

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Research found that people who recalled more childhood experiences around blue spaces tended to place greater intrinsic value on natural settings in general and visit them more often in adulthood, each in turn being associated with better mental well-being in adulthood. .

“In the context of an increasingly technological and industrialized world, it is important to understand how childhood experiences of nature relate to well-being later in life,” said author Valeria Vitale. principal and doctoral candidate at the Sapienza University of Rome, principal author of the article published in the Journal of Environmental Psychologyand funded by the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union.

“Our results suggest that building familiarity and trust in and around blue spaces during childhood can stimulate an inherent joy in nature and encourage people to seek out recreational experiences in nature, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health,

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Dr Leanne Martin, co-author and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter, agrees that aquatic environments can be dangerous for children and that “parents are right to be careful”.

“This research suggests, however, that helping children feel comfortable in these environments and develop skills such as swimming at an early age may have lifelong benefits previously unheard of. recognised.”

“The current study reinforces our growing awareness of the need for city planners and local agencies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe and accessible access to natural environments for the healthy mental and physical development of our people. children,” said Dr. Mathew White, co-author and lead researcher at the University of Vienna.

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(Source: European Center for Environment and Human Health)

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