The Health Benefits of Being by Water

Hayley Dawes
5 July 2022

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and imagine sitting beside a body of water. Perhaps it’s a serene lake, a lake so big you can barely make out the other side. Or maybe it’s a sugar-sand beach with crystalline waters that feel like a warm bath to the touch. Sit. Hear the water lap against either shore. Feel the breeze. Take it all in. Odds are you’re feeling calmer already. That’s because, according to science, being around water can help our mental health in myriad ways and be the key to lasting happiness.

A day at the beach brings joy to all of us. Those who love to go on holiday by oceans, lakes, and even swimming pools, can attest to the water’s power to inspire relaxation and promote personal rejuvenation. The sea, rivers, lakes, streams – as soon as we can, we're sprinting towards the nearest water source we can find, especially during the summer heat. Why? Because it has the ability to flick a switch inside that takes us from chaotic to calm.

If you’re seeing red, feeling angry, anxious, and stressed, there may be a cure for your blues, for free, wherever you may be. “People can experience the benefits of the water whether they’re near the ocean, a lake, river, swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain,” explains marine biologist and author of Blue Mind, Wallace Nichols. Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because as humans, we’re naturally drawn to blue space. In fact, being in or near water environments may lead to relaxation, improved social interactions, better brain health, enhanced physical activity, and relief from stress.

Now scientists are quantifying the positive cognitive and physical effects of water, too. Living by coasts leads to an improved sense of physical health and well-being. Contact with water induces a meditative state that makes us happier, healthier, calmer, and more creative.

 

The elixir of life

Water is considered the elixir and source of life. It covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, makes up nearly 70% of our bodies, and constitutes over 70% of our heart and brains. This deep biological connection has been shown to trigger an immediate response in our brains when we’re near water. In fact, the mere sight and sound of water can induce a flood of neurochemicals that promote wellness, increase blood flow to the brain and heart and induce relaxation. 

Spending time in and by oceans, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, fountains, and even showers can help ward off depression and anxiety created by technology. Almost all of the senses are engaged – sight, smell, hearing, and touch, and this physical immersion in reality makes us feel better, even though we sometimes imagine we can’t part with our phones for even a moment. Spending too much time inside, glued to screens, consuming news and entertainment, can lead to lethargy, lack of motivation, and dissatisfaction. Getting in, on, or near the water improves moods.

 

The power of water

Water therapy has long been prescribed as a life tonic. By 1750 it was widely recommended that sea swimming could cure diseases, and this further led to the formation of ‘seaside towns.’ What’s new is the ‘blue space’ shift in focus to the blue waters around us. 

Studies have also shown that even just images of environments containing water create a positive reaction – good news if you’re miles away from a natural source.

 

How can a shower help?

If you can’t get to the beach, fear not; there are alternatives. Showering can change your mind for the better and boost creativity, for example. The shower is a proxy for the ocean – you step in the shower, and you remove a lot of the visual stimulation of your day. Sound wise, it’s the same thing – it’s a steady stream of ‘blue noise.’ You’re not hearing voices or processing ideas. You step into the shower and it’s like a mini vacation. That break gives your mind a little space to come up with creative ideas.

 

Meditation

Flowing or moving water is ‘white noise.’ Listening to the sound – allowing it to wash over you – is a meditative act that puts you in the moment. Meditating in water can provide even greater benefits because of its healing effects. Being near, in our underwater is greatly beneficial in both physical and spiritual terms. The overall sense of well-being is increased, stress and anxiety are reduced and heart and breathing rates become lower allowing safer and better workouts.Top of Form

Additionally, many guided meditations use images of water and sounds of waterfalls and ocean waves for helping the binaural rhythms of the body. The combination of image, sound and feel activate the senses that are usually inactive in our bodies and help to discover the hidden potential that lies within us. Acknowledging and learning to use that potential can be a crucial step towards our self-consciousness and self-realisation.

Any water is better than none, so if you’re an urbanite, hunt out water features, canals, ponds, streams – anywhere you can stare into the ‘blue space’ and lose yourself for a while – 20 minutes is ideal. It’s about distracting your mind from the daily grind, so look at the water formations, listen to the sound of it trickling and splashing and enjoy the meditative effects it creates.

 

Forest Bathing

Research on the benefits of “green space” – forests and other green environments – has shown many health and wellness benefits. The Japanese practice of forest bathing, and study of the medicinal effects of just being among tress, has led to increased scientific interest on water’s effects as well. It is more important than ever as time spent in nature, especially when it involves the calming aspect of water, is a valuable way to offset the stresses of living and working in modern contexts.

*DREEM TIP* If you struggle with sleep and switching off, a cool sky blue in your bedroom will relax you, and if you need to keep ideas sparking in your home office, an azure hue could become a handy stimulant.

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