We’ve long been told about the health benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. Whether it’s hiking, playing outdoor sports, or fishing, we know that getting outside and spending time in nature is important for us as human beings. But what outdoor spaces provide the most health benefits?  

A 2019 study showed that interacting with nature can have cognitive benefits like improved working memory, attention control, and cognitive flexibility which is your brain’s ability to adapt to new, changing, or unplanned events. Just a few moments in green spaces has been shown to increase mental stamina. In one study, researchers even found that students who listened to nature sounds like waves crashing or birds chirping performed better on exams than students who were made to listen to sounds like traffic or a busy bus terminal.  

While the cognitive impacts of spending time in nature are desirable, there are also other emotional, physiological benefits to increasing your time outdoors, particularly if water is involved. 

Blue Space For the Win

Increased time in nature is known to have a calming effect. There is something about being outdoors that allows us to decompress and relax. This is true of all natural spaces, but some studies have shown a difference in the impact of green spaces like parks, fields and forests versus interacting with bodies of water known as “blue spaces”. 

Studies released by BlueHealth, a research organization that investigates links between urban blue spaces, climate and health, show that spending time near water actually has a bit of an edge over time spent interacting with green spaces in terms of overall health benefits. 

Some of the benefits of blue spaces include: 

  • Increased mental stamina and attention 
  • Increased feelings of happiness 
  • Increased relaxation 
  • Better, longer sleep 

Researchers attribute these improvements to our natural responses to water. For instance, one finding showed that what people think about actually changes depending on the environment they are in. People interacting with blue spaces tended to ruminate more on outward thoughts like memories of their families or childhoods whereas people spending time in green spaces tended to reflect inward and focus on their current lives.  

Float Away 

Whether you sit by a fountain or lake in the park, or take a stroll on the beach, the positive impacts that water can have on our mental, emotional, and physical health are impressive. It’s one of the main reasons why HOW events are so effective in helping participants decompress and feel a sense of peace after each experience.  

Here are 3 ways to interact with water on a daily basis that have been proven to help overall well-being even if you don’t have an ocean or lake nearby: 

  1. Fountains
    Whether it’s a fountain in a park, or a desktop fountain, the sound of water has a proven ability to boost your mood.

  2. Ocean sounds
    Many people play ocean, waterfall, or rain sounds at night and for good reason! The sound of crashing waves is known to increase relaxation and can even help you sleep longer. The plus side is that you can find playlists of these sounds on free platforms like YouTube and Spotify.
  3. Parks and lakes
    Studies show that while some blue spaces are more beneficial than others, any interaction with water reaps benefits. If you have a nearby park, lake, or bay spending as little as 2 hours per week by water can improve your mental health.  
At Heroes on the Water, we know that utilizing water in our wellness program has a positive impact on our participants and volunteers. We encourage everyone to spend some time outdoors to improve mental and physical health. If you can be near water, all the better!  Learn more about our programs for veterans and first responders, and find a chapter event near you. 

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