Ocean views ‘good for the brain’

Are you more chilled out by the sea or in the countryside?

Are you more chilled out by the sea or in the countryside?

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Living by the seaside really does boost your spirits, according to new research.

And scientists say more blocks of flats and affordable homes should be built there to increase the numbers who can benefit.

It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests

Professor

A study in New Zealand found residents whose properties had an ocean view were happier than their land-locked cousins.

It is the first to find a link between health and the visibility of water, which the scientists call ‘blue space’.

However, research has shown the sound of waves alters wave patterns in the brain lulling you into a deeply relaxed state. Relaxing in this way can help rejuvenate the mind and body.

Also, floating in water means blood is diverted around from our lower limbs and pumped towards our abdominal region - the part of the body near the heart - because we are no longer standing upright.

Fresh blood being pumped around the body brings more oxygen to our brain which makes us more alert and active.

Professor Amber Pearson, of Michigan State University, said: “Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress. However, we did not find that with green space.”

Previous research has suggested living near parks are good for health, but it appears nothing beats living ‘by the seaside’, as the song goes.

Using various topography data, Prof Pearson and colleagues studied the visibility of blue and green spaces from residential locations of Wellington.

The urban capital city is surrounded by the Tasman Sea on the north and the Pacific Ocean on the south. Green space includes forests and grassy parks.

To gauge psychological distress, the researchers analysed data from the New Zealand Health Survey which used a measurement called the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, or K10, which has proven to be an accurate predictor of anxiety and mood disorders.

Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

Even after taking into account residents’ wealth, age, sex and other neighbourhood factors, the study found having a view of the ocean was associated with improved mental health.

Prof Pearson said visibility of green space did not show the same calming effect, although that could be because the study did not distinguish between types. She explained: “It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests. Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different.”

Like most wealthy countries, New Zealand is highly urbanised, meaning effective city planning is increasingly important.

Prof Pearson said designating a proportion of high rise buildings or affordable homes in locations with ocean views could potentially promote mental health.

She added future research could investigate whether the findings hold true for large fresh bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.

Studies have shown sea air is good for a sound sleep because it is charged with healthy negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen.

The chemicals also balance levels of seratonin, a hormone linked with mood and stress. Which is why after a holiday you feel more alert, relaxed and energised.

The heat of the sun also affects our endocrine system - the part of our body which secretes endorphins - the natural chemicals in our body designed to make us feel relaxed and less stressed.