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May 05, 2021     Post 124
Blue Spaces

For over thirty years I have written about Lake Ontario, as a sailboat owner and a beachcomber. ( Shameless self promo warning!New Book coming soon this July, A Natural History of Lake Ontario from Arcadia Press with Awesome photos!)

There is utterly no doubt in my mind that contact with natural settings is essential to human well being. For decades scientific studies have confirmed the health benefits of green spaces. Now there is increasing medical evidence for the unique power of the blue spaces of water to heal our stress and misery. Even a simple fountain in a city park can promote a strong sense of well being.

Psychologists suspect that both the sound and the play of light upon water contribute. In one study 20,000 participants used a cell phone app to rate their sense of well being in various settings. When prompted at random times, their proximity to large bodies of waters ranked high. ( Swamps, alas, did not fare so well. ) The analysts rated the effect as similar to the groups’ general preference for attending an art or museum exhibition rather than doing housework.

Matthew White, a psychologist with a European program called BlueHealth, says that those who sail upon the lake or sea are “really in tune with natural forces there”. He goes on to declare sailors have to understand the motion of the wind and the movement of the water. By being forced to concentrate on the qualities of the environment, we access a cognitive state honed over millennia.

As an obsessive sailor for a half century I agree whole heartedly with him. Even merely seeing the color blue seems to have a positive effect on human mental states. People use terms like peaceful, tranquil and orderly to describe blue scenes. They may also feel a sense of stability when exposed to blue ( at least if they’re not bouncing around on a boat). Think of the lake on a sunny day or the view of a range of hills in the hazy distance on a summer day and you can relate.

It makes sense to me that adaptation to our natural world and historical heritage play a big role in our mental health. Without a doubt we are drawn to coasts-consider the premium price of waterfront real estate. And it should be pretty obvious that walking on a beach is a beneficial form of exercise as studies on lower obesity rates of urbanites living near access to the shore suggest.

There’s more to it than simply a cool lake breeze on a hot day, though that is one benefit in these times of global warming. As far back as the Holocene, our ancestors were drawn to the abundant food resources of the coast. Some researchers even hypothesize that the healthful Omega 3 and 6 fats of marine fish and shellfish may have helped our big brain development. Other researchers claim evidence that some populations of humans dispersed throughout the world by following coastlines. (or by using Boats! 50,000 years ago.)

So Blue space is important. I’m hopeful that “The Natural History of Lake Ontario” will stimulate more beach walks and more engagement with this amazing body of water. The lake needs every friend it can get these days.

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