An ocean of calm


3 min read


There is a growing body of research, suggesting that ‘blue spaces‘ (the ocean, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds) may have been underestimated in their benefits to human health wellbeing.

Proximity and access to water have long been central to human culture and accordingly deliver countless societal benefits. Over 200 million people live on Europe’s coastline, and aquatic environments are the top recreational destination in the region.

The European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Exeter are pioneering work in this field with Blue Health an EU Horizon 2020 collaborative programme to uncover just how blue spaces in towns and cities impact human health and wellbeing. Recent findings from the group have found that, in England, we make 271 million coastal visits annually across the population spectrum and that the coast may play an important role in reducing activity inequalities.




The coast has also been described as a therapeutic landscape, catering for a variety of therapeutic needs and helping us to find solace, stillness and rehabilitation.  In a 2010 study on older adults in Vancouver, Canada, blue space was also found to influence participants’ perceived physical, mental, and social health. Even in urban settings, blue spaces have been shown to provide respite from everyday stresses.

pexels-photo-50631.jpeg  Furthermore, Attention Restoration Theory (ART) hypothesises that natural settings can also enhance mental functioning and exposure to natural environments has been found to help with stress recovery

Combining visual and auditory natural stimuli (for example the sound of ocean waves and an image of the shoreline) has also been found to be beneficial in reducing pain, owing to the distracting and calming properties of these stimuli.


Spending time around blue spaces, wherever these might be, may, therefore, help with our ability to function in our everyday lives allowing us to focus and restore our attention.

With research mounting to support the wider value of the ocean to human health and wellbeing, there is an emerging call to consider this often overlooked value in planning and policymaking.

Find more information on the European Centre for Environment and Human Health’s Blue Health work here 

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