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Health by stealth by the seashore

By Timothy Cocks Education for all 08 Nov 2019

One of life’s great gifts is to have clever, thinking friends who send you interesting things to read and help you curate the daily tsunami of information. This nice piece from The Guardian came to me from one such wonderful friend, Blanaid Coveney (who also happens to have written some of the best pieces here on noijam). Among some selected excerpts, I’ve slotted a few QUOTES that suggest that water, especially the ocean has held a special place in our lives for a long time.

Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness

“After her mother’s sudden death, Catherine Kelly felt the call of the sea. She was in her 20s and had been working as a geographer in London away from her native Ireland. She spent a year in Dublin with her family, then accepted an academic position on the west coast, near Westport in County Mayo. “I thought: ‘I need to go and get my head cleared in this place, to be blown away by the wind and nature.’”

Kelly bought a little house in a remote area and surfed, swam and walked a three-mile-long beach twice a day. “I guess the five or six years that I spent there on the wild Atlantic coast just healed me, really.”

She didn’t understand why that might be until some years later, when she started to see scientific literature that proved what she had long felt intuitively to be true: that she felt much better by the sea. For the past eight years, Kelly has been based in Brighton, researching “outdoor wellbeing” and the therapeutic effects of nature – particularly of water.”

Health to the ocean means health for us.

Sylvia Earle

“In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicised, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.”

The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.     


“An extensive 2013 study on happiness in natural environments – to White’s mind, “one of the best ever” – prompted 20,000 smartphone users to record their sense of wellbeing and their immediate environment at random intervals. Marine and coastal margins were found by some distance to be the happiest locations, with responses approximately six points higher than in a continuous urban environment. The researchers equated it to “the difference between attending an exhibition and doing housework”.

The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

Jacques Cousteau

“White says there are three established pathways by which the presence of water is positively related to health, wellbeing and happiness. First, there are the beneficial environmental factors typical of aquatic environments, such as less polluted air and more sunlight. Second, people who live by water tend to be more physically active – not just with water sports, but walking and cycling. Third – and this is where blue space seems to have an edge over other natural environments – water has a psychologically restorative effect. White says spending time in and around aquatic environments has consistently been shown to lead to significantly higher benefits, in inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress, than green space does.”

The waves of the sea help me get back to me.

Jill Davis

“The coast does seem to be especially effective, however. White suggests this is due to the ebb and flow of the tides. He points out that rumination – focusing on negative thoughts about one’s distress – is an established factor in depression. “What we find is that spending time walking on the beach, there’s a transition towards thinking outwards towards the environment, thinking about those patterns – putting your life in perspective, if you like.”

Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.     

Sarah Kay

“As well as an academic, Kelly is a wellness practitioner who teaches classes in “mindfulness by the sea”. She says the sea has a meditative quality – whether it is crashing or still, or you are in the water or observing from the shore. “You can immerse yourself in it, which you can’t really do with a green space. You’re present in that moment, you’re looking at something with intention, and whether that’s for two minutes or half an hour, it gives you the benefits in that moment.”

The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.

Isak Dinesen

Interesting to read about the apparent superiority of Blue Spaces over Green Spaces, but one would think that the usual caveat of horses for courses must surely apply.

As an aside, Finland was rated as the world’s happiest country in 2019, and a quick look on Google maps reveals a country with only perhaps a third of its borders being coastal. However the population density data is fascinating with nearly one third of all Finns living in coastal Helsinki and other population hotspots being next to large bodies of water. The northern land locked part of the country, with vastly fewer blue spaces than the south, is one of the most sparsely populated regions on earth…

My favourite passage from The Guardian piece is below

“By spending time in these environments, you’re getting what we call ‘health by stealth’ – enjoying the outdoors, interacting with the physical environment – and that also has some different health benefits.”

The idea of ‘health by stealth’ is rather nice, as is the idea of appropriately prescribing some blue space time as part of any treatment plan.

-Tim Cocks



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  1. As a young boy, we lived on the coast for a while. To sooth by depression, I would steal away from home to sit on the beach and loose my gaze in the grey wild waters. The sea was my therapist and cleansed the torment of my troubled mind……

  2. ste5e

    Hi All,
    Green space healing, blue space healing – folks I know live for the white spaces of snow – I would think if we researched that it would be positive for their well being too. Others for the bleakness of moor or dusty scrub.
    My thought is wherever we can be, just be, is good for us.
    Snow is accessible to just a few, blue space to many more and green spaces to most – but headspace to nearly all of us. That is the most accessible and we should all enjoy our right to roam there.
    Kind thoughts,
    ps I don’t mean the app many other good routes are available without a monthly fee.

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