Living next to the sea is good for your mental health, a new study has found.
People living within five kilometres of ‘blue spaces’ experienced fewer mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Exeter University researchers compared adults with the same incomes, but who lived at different distances from the seaside.
This suggests the coast may act as a ‘protective zone’ for psychological wellbeing and highlights the importance of so-called ‘Blue Health.’
Study lead author Dr Jo Garrett said: “There are many possibilities for the positive impact of the sea on people’s mental health.
“Sea views, fresh air and physical activities could all contribute, but we cannot say for sure because this study did not look at causes.
“Many people find a visit to the seaside helps them to recover from stressful events.”
In one of the most detailed investigations of its kind, the scientists crunched Health Survey for England data from nearly 26,000 respondents dating from 2008 to 2012.
The researchers grouped participants into categories according to how far they lived from the sea and compared residents on the same incomes.
Ranges from the sea included less than a kilometre, one to five kilometres, five to 20 kilometers, 20 to fifty kilometres and more than fifty kilometres.
The strongest mental health benefits were in those living within a kilometre from the sea, with the effects dwindling the further inland the person lived.
There was no recorded benefit for those living further than five kilometres from the coast.
But coastal living only impacted the mental health of those on lowest household incomes, with richer households unaffected.
Approximately one in six adults in England suffer from mental health disorders, but disadvantaged people are the hardest hit.
Researchers think coastal access could help to reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities close to the sea.
Dr Garrett added: “Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders.
“When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income.”
The study’s findings add to the growing evidence that being near to water, particularly the coast, might improve health and wellbeing.
Environmental psychologist Dr Mathew White (CORR), of Exeter University, said: “This kind of research into blue health is vital to convincing governments to protect, create and encourage the use of coastal spaces.
“With everywhere in England within 70 miles of the sea, more people could harness the wellbeing benefits of living near the coast thanks to improved access.
“We need to help policy makers understand how to maximise the wellbeing benefits of ‘blue’ spaces in towns and cities and ensure that access is fair and inclusive for everyone, while not damaging our fragile coastal environments.”
Published today (MON) in the Health and Place journal, the study is the first to link the benefits of coastal living to income in such detail.
It comes as government-backed Natural England prepares to open access to all of England’s Coast Path by 2020.
This research is part of the EU-funded BlueHealth project, which examines how water-based environments in towns and cities can affect health and wellbeing.