Spending time by the water as a child can boost mental health in adulthood, a new study shows. The study looked at the relationship people have with natural water environments as children and adults and found that spending a lot of time near water also made them value nature more.
Spending part of one’s childhood by seas, lakes and rivers can have benefits for our mental health and well-being in adulthood. In a major new study, 15,000 people from 18 different countries took part in a survey about their childhood experiences near water. Researchers say that in the past, such studies have mostly focused on the green, such as forests and parks, so this study wanted to focus on the blue, i.e. water.
Among other things, they were asked to recall, as far back as they could, the ages of 0 to 16 and how much time they spent near water. Participants were also asked how often they visited such places and how close they lived to water. How anxious one’s parents had been about letting one play and swim freely was also asked in the survey.
Questions about how often people also visit water and nature in general in adulthood and how good their mental health is today were crucial in the study.
“Building familiarity with and confidence in and around blue spaces in childhood can stimulate enjoyment and increased propensity to spend recreational time in nature in adulthood, with positive consequences for adults’ subjective well-being,” the study shows.
The study also found that people tended to value nature more if they had many childhood memories of different environments with water bodies and revisited them frequently as adults. Spending time in nature in general has previously been known to promote one’s mental health and well-being.
At the same time, water is known to be life-threatening, especially for children who cannot swim. Because the study shows such great benefits from being around water, the researchers suggest that it can be beneficial for children to learn to swim and feel safe around water at an early age.
– Developing skills, such as swimming, at an early age can have previously unknown lifelong benefits, says Dr Leanne Martin, co-author of the study.
The study highlights the need for more urban planning, for example, to create “safe access to natural environments” for children’s mental and physical development, says co-author Dr Matthew White.
– Further work, policies and initiatives that encourage more experiences of blue environments during childhood could be a viable way to support the mental health of future generations, he says.