The doctors prescribing ‘blue therapy’

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But many experts now believe that blue spaces, such as lakes and rivers, can be even more beneficial than green ones.

“Blue spaces provide us with distractions that take our minds off the daily hassles of life,” says Kate Campbell, a health psychology researcher at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand. “The sound of crashing waves, the smell of salt air, the crunch of sand under our toes…Sensations relax our bodies and tell our minds to turn off.”

Campbell believes that humans have “an innate predisposition” to natural environments that once benefited us as an evolving species. The natural spaces that provided pre-modern humans with food, comfort, and safety likely provide a similar sense of ease in today’s urban world. Spending time in blue spaces, Campbell says, can feel like “coming home.”

The concept of blue health emerged almost 10 years ago when researchers at the University of Sussex asked 20,000 people to record their feelings at random times. They collected over a million responses and found that people were much happier when they were in blue spaces.

Recently, experts from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have discovered that spending time in blue spaces reduces the risk of stress, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease and premature death.

Niamh Smith, a researcher at GCU and co-author of the study, says the team found an impact on mental and general health from spending time in blue spaces. The research also linked time spent in blue space with a reduction in body mass index (BMI) and a lower risk of mortality.

“People really appreciate the therapeutic space,” Smith says. “They love the sound of running water, to have a reflective space to sit in silence, a place to clear their heads from the burdens of everyday life.

“We know there are four main ways that blue spaces benefit health – through physical activity, reducing stress, providing a space for socialisation. [and finally the] environmental factors that affect our health. For example, if a river is lined with trees, you have shade.”

In fact, blue spaces are so good for your health that they can now be prescribed by your doctor.

Blue recipe

“My depression comes in cycles,” says Harune Akthar, speaking from his home in West London.

About ten years ago, the 27-year-old was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, ADHD, depression and anxiety.

“When I had a bad day, it took me three to four days to get over it,” he says. “I slept and ignored everyone including my family – and I love my family. I wouldn’t eat. You would rarely see me.”

Over the years, Akthar tried a number of different therapies but found none to help. Then, in June this year, his doctor referred him to the Blue Prescription scheme run by the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust (WWT), a charity.

After the first day, he didn’t think it was for him. At the end of the second, he couldn’t wait to get back.

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