Views far beyond the horizon, salty spray, sundrops dancing on the water and the distinctive rhythmic noise that soothes the soul can lead to inner stillness and revitalize the body: factors like these create the proverbial longing for the sea. A research team confirms the experience of coastal residents and vacationers on beaches and boats: sea air and sea water have a therapeutic effect.
People feel healthier when they live near the sea, or at least spend some time by the sea. This was the result of a survey conducted by environmental psychologists in Vienna among more than 15,000 people in 15 countries. Like researchers in the journal “Earth and Environment Communications” Report, this self-assessment of health is independent of country and income.
The Greek playwright Euripides, who retired to a cave overlooking the sea on the island of Salamis to write his plays, said, “The sea washes away all evil.” Then, in the 17th century, English physicians began to believe that bathing in the sea and walking on the coast were good for health, and by the mid-18th century, spa baths and sea air were known as health-improving measures among wealthy citizens of Europe.
Inequalities between rich and poor still exist
As part of an EU project researching the opportunities and risks of oceans for human health, scientists led by Sandra Geiger of the University of Vienna’s Environmental Psychology Working Group have more than 15,000 people in 14 European countries in Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands asked. and Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, the Czech Republic and Australia for their opinion on various marine activities and their health.
“It’s amazing that we see such uniform and clear patterns across all 15 countries. Everyone seems to benefit from being near the sea, not just the wealthy,” Geiger summed up the results in a broadcast. “Frequency of visits to the coast is positively associated with improved health status, regardless of income,” the scientists wrote in their paper. Geiger asserts that health is influenced and affected by many different factors and that the sea is “one of these many factors, but it is not a panacea”.
However, the sea cannot reduce the health disparities that prevail between high and low incomes. “For policymakers, the findings suggest that public access to coastlines can offer clear health benefits,” the study authors stress. However, they should not expect that this would reduce existing inequality unless policies target lower-income groups.
Geiger asserts that residents of landlocked countries can also benefit at least partially from the sea, for example when they spend their holidays there. It also hypothesizes that there is a similarly strong relationship between freshwater bodies such as lakes and ponds and better health. To prove this, the Environmental Psychology Working Group is currently investigating the relationship between fresh water and health in a follow-up study in Austria.(apa/est)
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