I'm not in Lanarkshire this week. I'm spending time investing in some blue health. That is, I've gone to the seaside. We're always talking about green health here - I guess that's obvious as we're a green health partnership, but recently as a group we've discussed the definition of what green health means and decided that for our purposes, it includes time spent in green and blue spaces. Of course, we don't have any seaside in Lanarkshire, the most obvious kind of blue space, but we do have rivers and burns, lakes and lochs. Blue Health is based upon the commonly held belief that spending time near or in water is good for us. Indeed research has shown that exposure to blue space can be clearly linked to improvements in physical and mental health and wellbeing. Indeed the official colour of 2020 was nicknamed anti-anxiety blue! I gleaned this information from a report by The Wave surfing lake in Bristol. Yes, you heard right, an inland surfing destination, created by someone so certain that surfing was good for his own wellbeing, he wanted to enable other people to have a go. I imagine surfing and blue health is very much like mountain biking and green health, an alternative way to immerse yourself in the natural world. Literally in the case of surfing!
A book was published in 2015 that tells you all you need to know with it's snappy title:
Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do
I note that the title seems to have been somewhat shortened in later editions, but the key point remains the same, human brains are thought to carry an ancient connection to water.
Over the last 18 months as swimming pools were closed, there was a huge rise in people going wild swimming. The Outdoor Swimming Society's membership grew by 36% in 2020, and their website is a great source of information about how to take part safely and sensibly, for you and for the environment. (Note: always take care around water.) You won't be surprised to hear that I am not a wild swimmer, although I am not averse to a quick dip in the sea. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will be even less surprised to hear that whilst not partaking myself, I have enjoyed the activity vicariously through books. A particular favourite was Waterlog by Richard Deakin, although it didn't really make me want to dive in, especially not once he had mentioned being bitten by an eel. I was however quite fond of the idea of having my own moat to swim in. (To be honest if climate change continues and Glasgow City Council's maintenance crew don't do something about the state of our road, this might not be just a pipedream. After all, a mermaid was recently spotted on the southside.)
For more information about blue health, check out the 2020 EU research project and particularly this short interview with a couple of the researchers. They point out that encountering water is not necessarily a stress free experience, for instance being on a small boat in the middle of the sea would be inherently stressful. It is the margins, where water meets greenspace that is particularly beneficial for human wellbeing. Someone walking on a beach, for instance, is less likely to have repetitive and damaging thoughts, and more likely to be thinking about what is going on around them. The sound and movement of the water is thought to be relaxing, and personally I find looking to the horizon a source of calm. Interestingly blue spaces seem to be more accessible to a greater variety of people and therefore address some health inequalities. Put simply, lower income families are less likely to visit woodlands. Research is also looking at whether virtually visiting watery places, including looking at underwater scenes can be beneficial for people who would not otherwise be able to access them. The therapeutic values of watching fish swimming in a tank are well documented and digital aquariums are even used in care homes, where hygiene issues no longer allow the real thing. The sounds, the colours and the gentle movement of the fish can be extremely calming. Not so much for me, I have to admit, I find fish a bit freaky, however I could listen to the sound of the waves forever, and I'm off to do a bit more of that now.