Do you currently live in a home with a view of the ocean? Can you hear the waves rolling in and smell the salt air as you have dinner on the balcony? If so, the rest of us envy you. As it turns out that perfect home with an ocean view could have even more benefits than the obvious. It could be beneficial to your mental health.
A recent study has shown that living in a home with a view of the ocean could have significant benefits of reducing stress and improving overall mental health. That’s right; as if that perfect beach home you dream of wasn’t perfect enough already, it could even help your sanity.
“Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress,” says one of the authors of the study.
The research study was performed by a group at Michigan State University and found some relatively surprising results. It was co-authored by Amber L. Pearson, an assistant professor at the university whose main focus is social justice and understanding the “unexpected tenacity, adaptability and resilience of the underprivileged.”
Her area of focus may seem surprising enough, considering the fact that ocean views are normally only affordable to the very upper-class. However, that was part of the point of the investigation. Professor Pearson seeks to understand the aspects of the built, physical and social environment that bolster health in the face of adversity. She has worked specifically in the realm of water research and to understand the intersection of spatial and social dimensions of health as they relate to water access.
“We live in increasingly urbanized areas which limit our exposure to natural spaces and this could lead to more depression and mental health issues – one of the top causes of disease worldwide – so identifying factors within cities which relate to positive mental health is important,” says Professor Pearson.
Much of her research on this topic has been performed in wealthier areas, and this one was no different. In this study, she and other researchers used various topography data and studied the visibility of blue and green spaces in Wellington, New Zealand. New Zealand is statistically one of the wealthier nations of the world, and performing the study there provided specific advantages.
“We used the capital city of New Zealand – Wellington to examine the relationship between mental health and the visibility of natural spaces, including blue space or water bodies and green space or parks and vegetated areas.”
The term “blue space” refers to areas with visibility of natural bodies of water, such as the ocean of sea. “Green space,” on the other hand, is what it sounds like. It refers to grassy or forested areas. The study was published in the May issue of the academic journal Health & Place, an interdisciplinary journal dedicated to all aspects of health in which place and location matter. According to Michigan State, it is the first to find a true link between health and the visibility of natural bodies of water.
The urban capital of Wellington provided the researchers with the ability to study several different types of locations. It is surrounded by the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. These were the blue spaces in the study. The green spaces were surrounding forests or grassy park areas.
The goal was to find out how access to these views could impact one’s mental health, if at all. As global urbanization escalates, some urban neighborhood features could improve mental and even physical health. If this is true, the placement of housing in these areas could have a growing level of importance.
“We developed a geospatial technique to quantify visual exposure to blue and green spaces for residential locations across the entire city,” says Professor Pearson. “Then, using the New Zealand Health Survey Data, we linked mental health data for the respondents to blue space visibility, based on where they lived.”
The data to which Professor Pearson is referring is provided by a national organization designed specifically for this purpose. The New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS) provides information about the health and overall well-being of people living in New Zealand. In 2011, the NZHS became a continuous survey, enabling the publication of annual updates on the health of New Zealanders and providing useful statistical data for studies such as this one.
The researchers also used the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, also known as the K10, as the main instruments in testing respondents. It is a ten item questionnaire intended to yield a global measure of distress based on questions about stress and depressive symptoms that a person has experienced in a 30-day period. It asks how often the participant has felt certain emotions such as sadness, anxiety, depression and others as a predictor for anxiety and mood disorders.
Participants are asked to rate the frequency of these emotions on a scale of one to five, ranging from “None of the time” to “All of the time.” The use of this type of self-report measure is generally viewed as a desirable method of assessment because it is a genuine attempt on the part of the clinician to collect information on the subject’s current condition and establish a productive dialogue. The K10 has been proven, through the use in multiple reputable studies, to be an accurate predictor of possible mental health problems.
Using a cross-sectional survey of adults and the application of novel geospatial techniques, this study investigated whether increased visibility of nature could be related to lower stress levels. The researchers also factored in other socioeconomic factors which they believed could skew the results of the study.
“We found that higher levels of blue space visibility were associated with decreased psychological distress, regardless of other factors such as age, sex and income,” says Professor Pearson. They also factored in things such as neighborhood population density, housing quality, crime and deprivation. The results seemed relatively conclusive that a view of the ocean played a large role an individual’s stress level and overall mood.
“We do not know whether our findings would hold true in other settings,” Professor Pearson added. “The blue space in Wellington is almost completely oceanic. When one sees the ocean, other senses are experienced including sound and smell. So similar studies evaluating the relationship for fresh water would be beneficial.”
While this does not mean that you should give up on hopes of buying that lake house in exchange for a condo on the beach, it does show that other factors could be at play. The ocean is pleasing to our senses in many ways other than just the beauty of the waves. However, the results do still show a defined difference in the moods of those with an ocean view compared to those without.
The researchers did not find similar results in the cases of views to green spaces such as forested areas or grassy parks. In fact, the research shows little to no difference in the moods of people with these views when compared to other, more urbanized areas. However, Professor Pearson admits that there could be additional factors that influenced this aspect of the study as well.
“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,” Pearson said. “Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different.”
While further research would be needed to determine a comparison between natural areas and those that are man-made, it does still show a direct correlation between a house by the sea and one’s overall mood. We know, this doesn’t exactly come as news to most people, but it could have serious implications in other aspects of society. Professor Pearson is, first and foremost, a health geographer with a focus on social justice and understanding how geography relates to social issues.
“If other studies confirm our findings, there may be urban planning implications,” says Pearson. “It would be important that residential views of blue space not be limited to those that can afford them, in order to limit inequalities in mental health between the rich and the poor.”
Like many other wealthy nations, New Zealand is highly urbanized. This means that effective city planning is becoming increasingly important there. If this study can get more attention and research into these topics can gain momentum, it could have a large impact in the United States and around the world.
If further research confirm Professor Pearson’s findings, it could change the way city planners think about where they place residential areas. When taking into account the mental health of citizens, the geography and topography of further expansion could mean designating a portion of high-rise buildings or affordable homes in locations with ocean views.
Although this is a lot of “if”s, Professor Pearson hopes that her research can be the first step in bringing about more focus on the health of city residents. This could give hope to those outside the upper tiers of society to one day watch the waves roll by through their windows.