Water Works: How Living Near Water Can Benefit Your Mind and Body

When feeling blue is good for your soul

Remember the infamous aerial photo of Pasig City taken by reporter Daphne Oseña Paez in 2015? Some people suggested the massive sprawl of tightly packed houses was photoshopped to look extremely dense. But the photo was real and quickly went viral – you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone shocked by this revelation. In fact, some parts of Metro Manila are so overcrowded, you literally wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat.

The good news is some real estate developers are fighting hard against the trend of densification by introducing “green” and “blue” spaces – open areas whose natural elements inject a sense of relief and harmony into an increasingly concretized city.

Rooftop and vertical gardens, spacious grassy play areas, jogging paths lined with foliage, rivers, fountains, and ponds are all keeping us from being completely swallowed by modern urbanization. Blue spaces in particular have a profound effect on how we feel and thrive in the city.

Researchers and proponents of the “blue mind” concept, pioneered by scientist Wallace J. Nichols in his book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, believe that it’s in our nature to seek out blue spaces, with a strong desire to be by the water.

It’s important, therefore, to live in or find a spot in the city that cares about these elements. Here’s why:

To lessen stress, just add water

In a study by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, participants were shown different natural and urban scenes while their brain activity was measured and analyzed. The study showed that when people saw photos of natural scenes, especially those that had images of water, the brain produced higher alpha waves, which are associated with the brain being in a relaxed and meditative state – a wakeful restfulness.

Water’s trickle-down health effect

This meditative alpha wave state has also been known to lower cortisol in the body, which in turn lowers stress. Because high cortisol levels have been shown to increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, depression, and stroke, it’s advisable to be in an environment that helps your body lower cortisol levels and stress.

Being surrounded by a calming view even for just a few minutes a day gives your body a chance to focus on other things rather than operate in a constant state of fight or flight. Clare Cooper Marcus, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley tells Scientific America that while nature therapy won’t explicitly cure an illness, there’s evidence that the resulting stress and pain reduction can boost your immune system and “allow your own body and other treatments to help you heal.”

Bringing blue to you

Many real estate developers are making a conscious effort to create nature-inspired enclaves where city dwellers can relax and unwind, in green and blue spaces that ward off the encroaching concrete sprawl. One particular development is being built entirely around the concept of water and the rainforest; to underscore its premise, it’s rising on the banks of the Pasig River, Philippines.

Should you live where water and green spaces are given prominence? If you work in the city, particularly a dense one like Metro Manila, it makes sense to have access to nature-inspired spaces. If water can alter your very brain waves and help create a feeling of calm, it makes sense to be where the water flows.

“Water quiets all the noise, all the distractions, and connects you to your own thoughts,” says Dr. Nichols. In a crowded city that threatens to sink us with constant clamor and diversions, we need to keep our souls afloat. Find your blue space and rise above the noise.

 

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