Into Blue Space

Lots of researchers have studied how green space affects human health and well-being. But what about “blue space” created by more liquid landscapes? It appears that inland waters offer a range of benefits, a review by two German researchers finds – but there are still plenty of questions left to answer about how people respond to waterscapes.

“Water is one of the most important physical, aesthetic landscape elements,” Sebastian Völker and Thomas Kistemann write in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. But researchers have shown an “inattentiveness to blue space [that] makes it difficult to measure long-term effects of blue space on well-being.” To bring more attention to the issue, the pair launched a global search for studies on the benefits of inland water bodies. From a pool of thousands of water-related papers, they ultimately analyzed 36 studies from industrialized nations that examine everything from water’s impacts on emotion to its role in relaxing recreation.

Overall, the studies show that people often respond positively to the presence of water. But “important aspects of the sensual perception of blue space” include “the sound of water, its color, clarity, motion, and context,” the authors note. In some studies “blue water is generally preferred to yellow water… Blue water is associated with coolness, white water with power and roaring sounds” and “yellow waters are accepted when they are perceived as natural.”

Researchers have also found that “the occurrence of, for example, gently curving banks, calm aquatic scenes, high diversity or an admirable human urban design enhance the aesthetic values of blue spaces.” People also often recognize water “as a natural mirror, creating mystery by providing a picture that is not as clear as a normal mirror.” And many religions have a “concept of water as a ‘sacred substance.’” A little liquid also can make people feel better. “The perception of cleanliness and refreshment associated with water leads to a sense of regained energy, youth, and health,” they note.

“Despite striking results showing that blue space has manifold influences on human health and wellbeing,” however, “research in blue space is still at best a by-product of environmental psychology and environmental health research,” the researchers conclude. To change that, they “suggest introducing ‘blue’ as a new color (both literally and metaphorically) into debates on environmental health and therapeutic landscapes.” In particular, they argue, “more research needs to be carried out on the emotional and experiential response to blue space,” including both fresh and marine waters. David Malakoff | July 3, 2011

Source: Völker, S., Kistemann, T., The impact of blue space on human health and well-being – Salutogenetic health effects of inland surface waters: A review. Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health (2011), doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2011.05.001

Image Andrejs Pidjass | Dreamstime.com

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