People who have positive experiences with blue spaces, like lakes, rivers or ponds, in childhood tend to have a better sense of well-being as adults. EyeWolf / Moment / Getty Images
More and more studies are showing the benefits of having outdoor access and spending time in nature. Even just having indoor plants in your home or looking at nature photos can have positive impacts for humans. So it’s no surprise that a new study from University of Exeter has found that people who have positive experiences with blue spaces, like lakes, rivers or ponds, in childhood tend to have a better sense of well-being as adults.
Researchers at University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health collected data from over 15,000 people in 18 countries in the BlueHealth International Survey (BIS).
The survey asked for participants to think back to experiences with blue spaces they had from ages 16 and under, with questions asking for specifics about how often these spaces were visited and how comfortable the parents or guardians were with the kids playing in these blue spaces. The survey also asked respondents to share any experiences with both blue and green spaces over the previous month along with questions about mental health over the two weeks prior to taking the survey.
The results were analyzed and used for a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Researchers found that those who spent more time with blue spaces as children and had positive experiences tended to spend more time in nature as adults, too, and exhibited signs of better well-being in adulthood.
“In the context of an increasingly technological and industrialized world, it’s important to understand how childhood nature experiences relate to wellbeing in later life,” Valeria Vitale, study lead author and PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that building familiarity and confidence in and around blue spaces during childhood may stimulate an inherent joy of nature and encourage people to seek out recreational nature experiences, with beneficial consequences for adult mental health.”
While the researchers note that blue spaces can be dangerous for children, it’s important for parents and guardians to help kids develop skills to feel safe and comfortable in blue spaces in order to reap benefits well into adulthood. The study also emphasizes the need for more natural blue and green spaces in cities.
“The current study is adding to our growing awareness of the need for urban planners and local bodies responsible for managing our green and blue spaces to provide safe, accessible access to natural settings for the healthy mental and physical development of our children,” said Mathew White, study co-author and senior scientist at the University of Vienna. “If our findings are supported by longitudinal research that tracks people’s exposures over the entire life-course, it would suggest that further work, policies and initiatives encouraging more blue space experiences during childhood may be a viable way to support the mental health of future generations.”