Seaside inhabitants and visitors have felt it for generations, but scientists have only just begun to examine the coast’s potential health advantages. Using data from 15 nations, new research lead by Sandra Geiger of the University of Vienna’s Environmental Psychology Group validates popular belief: coastal living, but especially visiting it, is linked to greater health, regardless of country or personal affluence.
The notion that being near the ocean may improve one’s health is not new. Doctors in England began encouraging sea bathing and seaside walks for health benefits as early as 1660. By the mid-1800s, wealthy European individuals were widely promoting “the waters” or “sea air” as health cures. Medical technological developments in the early twentieth century led to a reduction in such techniques, which have only recently regained acceptance among the medical profession.
Geiger and colleagues from the Universities of Vienna, Exeter, and Birmingham, as well as Seascape Belgium and the European Marine Board, surveyed over 15,000 people in 14 European countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom) and Australia as part of the project “Seas, Oceans, and Public Health in Europe,” led by Professor Lora Fleming.
The findings, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, surprised the team. Lead author Geiger said, “It is striking to see such consistent and clear patterns across all 15 countries. We also now demonstrate that everybody seems to benefit from coastal living, not just the wealthy. Although the associations are relatively small, living near and especially visiting the coast can still have substantial effects on population health.”
Understanding the potential benefits of coastal access for all members of society is key for policymaking. Dr. Paula Kellett from the European Marine Board said, “The substantial health benefits of equal and sustainable access to our coasts should be considered when countries develop their marine spatial plans, consider future housing needs, and develop public transportation links.”
But what does this mean for landlocked residents like Geiger and her colleagues in Austria? “Austrians and other central Europeans visit the coasts in their millions during the summer months, so they too get to experience some of these benefits. Besides, we are also starting to appreciate the similar health benefits offered by inland waters such as lakes and natural pools.”
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