Science has shown that exposure to peaceful places in nature can improve our mental health, but a researcher at the University of Virginia is taking it one step further. She says spending time by bodies of water is especially helpful.
Jenny Roe grew up in Yorkshire, a county north of London.
“It was a four-hour drive to the coast, but I loved being near water,” she recalls. “For me it’s an absolute essential ingredient for where I live.”
Which is why she’s sitting by the Rivanna River in Charlottesville, explaining her research. As director of the Center for Design and Health at UVA’s school of architecture, she urges planners to consider getting people closer to streams, rivers, lakes and oceans or manmade ponds and fountains.
“First of all, it helps regulate the stress in terms of blood pressure, in terms of heart rate,” Roe explains. “Your mood will improve, and you’ll be more mentally alert.”
She says spending time in any natural area is good – but blue places are especially potent.
“Water, being perhaps more dynamic and capturing the quality of light on its surface, really has a super restorative effect. So being in any kind of green space will have a positive effect on your psychological well-being, but being in a green space with water added to it seems to increase the benefit.”
And, she says, positive memories from childhood may also explain our love of water.
“Be it playing at the sink, or with the water hose in the garden, or going to the beach, or paddling in a stream. Most of us as children had some experience or contact with water, and it’s those memories that also prompt this positive response.”
In a study set to begin this spring, Roe will actually measure brain activity and other physical reactions to waterside settings, and the school of architecture is especially interested in how they might help people over the age of 65.
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