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A New Study Says Living Near Water as a Child is Linked to Better Mental Health in Adults

You don’t have to tell us twice that living near and appreciating bodies of water has its benefits, but now there is research to back it up. A study that included 15,000 people across 18 countries concluded that children who played in and spent time around natural bodies of water grew up to have better mental health.

Participants were asked to recall their experiences in “blue spaces” from childhood, including how comfortable their guardians were with them playing in the water and how often they visited. The researchers found that those who could recall more of these experiences in childhood tended to place a greater value on them, visit more “blue spaces” as adults, and report better mental health as a result.

Here are just a few ways children can benefit from spending time in nature and developing a relationship with the bodies of water that they call home.

Water has a calming effect.

You don’t need to be sitting cross-legged on the ground meditating on the nature that surrounds you to benefit from it. Simply being in the fresh air and engaging with the water can have a calming effect on the nervous system – even with kids who are running around and laughing! The natural setting automatically activates the relaxation response that can reduce stress. And yes, kids experience stress too. Allowing them to be in an environment that promotes well-being can develop a lifelong habit of finding a sense of peace.

Water is refreshing.

This was not groundbreaking research. Of course water is refreshing! We all feel better after a shower and tall glass of water. But the act of actually immersing yourself in a lake, ocean or river has a rejuvenating effect that you just can’t get in your own house. There is an acceptance kids have when they reach the water’s edge, knowing that much of the experience is outside of their control – the temperature that they can’t adjust, the rocks that might poke their feet, the creatures they are sharing the space with. But that acceptance is what leads them to explore it and enjoy it with curiosity, and it is what helps them grow up into adults that go with the flow.

Water is a great place to have fun!

Swimming, hiking, running, digging and so many more fun physical activities take place by the water. Numerous studies have shown that kids who move their bodies for play have reduced feelings of stress and anxiety, boosted moods and higher self-esteem. People of all ages release endorphins when they get moving, and kids are no exception. Beaches and trails provide a perfect place for kids to engage both their minds and bodies.

Living near a body of water can provide a sense of community and social connection.

How often do you come across a glorious beach that is completely empty? Probably not very often. Water is a place for people to gather for recreational activities, and in many cases, interact with people inside and outside of your usual social circle. Kids can feel more connected to their family and friends as they share the experience together, but they might meet new friends walking the trails and wave to passersby on boats.

Bodies of water are also resources that connect the community. This shared space unites people who want to preserve it, and it provides a landmark that many people define their home by.

As our world becomes more technological and more industrialized, it is so important to understand how nature experiences in childhood impacts wellbeing later in life. By becoming familiar with and confident in blue spaces as kids, they are more likely to grow up to be adults who seek out these positive experiences and receive the natural benefits of it. Whether you have kids, are a kid at heart or simply want to give your mental health a boost, make it a point of dropping by your local blue spaces. Your current (and future) self with thank you!

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