Hitting the beach could be better for your mental health

If measures are not taken, this serene vision of Koh Tachai will be but a distant dream

WE all know the restorative properties of switching off from the work emails and taking a well-deserved holiday. But a new study reveals that the type of environment you chose to spend your break can have a significant impact on your mental health and well-being.

While the benefits of being close to nature have long been known, the type and quality of that natural environment is also important. Exposure to nature can strengthen an individual’s sense of connectedness and improve their emotional and cognitive bond to the natural world. It also enhances psychological restoration by feeling relaxed and refreshed, giving your brain time and space to decompress from the stress of the work day.

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While this connectedness to any nature can be beneficial, a recent study found spending time in coastal areas is better for your well-being.

KyCo Beach, also known as the Maldives of Vietnam in Binh Dinh province. Source: Shutterstock

When researchers asked 4,500 participants to recall recent visits to different locations, they found those who traveled to places with more natural offerings felt much better psychologically than those who spent their time in city gardens and parks. Not only were coastal and rural travellers more relaxed and refreshed, but they also felt more connected to nature than they did elsewhere.

The quality of the natural environment also proved integral to mental restorative potential. Those who visited protected or designated areas, such as nature reserves, showed greater connectedness to nature and restoration.

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Not only does this give any traveller food for thought when it comes to planning their next trip, but it makes a strong case for protecting more natural landscapes. The study showed that all spaces – urban and rural green spaces and coastal locations – with designated status were all associated with greater recalled restoration and greater connectedness than locations without this protected status.

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Source: Will Ellis/ Flickr.

These findings support the notion that higher quality green and blue spaces may have direct benefits on psychological restoration and should therefore be an important consideration when it comes to policy.

“It was surprising to learn that the extent of protection of marine environments also affects the extent of mental health benefits that people gain from their interactions with the sea,” Professor Mel Austen, Head of the Sea and Society Science Area at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said in a press release.

“People’s health is likely to become an increasingly important aspect to consider as we manage our coasts and waters for the benefit of all users.”