September 28, 2020
by Kimberly Lucey
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have turned to the outdoors for an escape. Some choose it for a change of scenery, fresh air, or exercise, while others are searching for a safe space to see friends and loved ones from a distance. Now, a study is showing the location where people choose to spend that outdoor time may play a big part in their mental well-being.
Walking in blue spaces, areas that feature water such as the beach, or near a river, lake, or fountain, may have a positive effect on people's well-being and mood. That's according to a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. And it doesn't need to be a long walk, according to the study. Just 20 minutes made a big difference.
The study focused on about 60 healthy adult office workers. They were randomly assigned to a different environment for 20 minutes a day, 4 days a week, for 3 weeks. Some walked along a blue space, others walked along an urban space, and the final group rested at a control site. Researchers measured self-reported well-being and mood, blood pressure, and heart rate before, during, and after the session. They say they found significantly improved well-being and mood responses after participants walked in the blue space, compared to walking in the urban space or resting in the control site.
Blue spaces can be found in nature near oceans, rivers, and lakes, and can also include artificial ponds and fountains. In South Boston, people walking along the beach agreed with the results of the study. "I feel better after a walk," says Katherine. "It just clears your mind, increases your endorphins, gets the oxygen moving through your blood." Others say they're not sure if it's the blue space that makes a difference, or the walk itself. "There's a lot on my mind", says Sadie. "So I find getting out and getting moving helps a lot, no matter the place."
Researchers say walking definitely helps, and the cardiovascular response showed increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system after walking along both the blue and urban spaces. But, they found a greater improvement in mood and well-being reports from the blue space walk, as opposed to the urban space walk. The authors say more studies are needed, so the health effects of blue spaces can be further explored. In the meantime, get out and enjoy the outdoors while your can, before those cooler temperatures take hold!
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.