Have you heard of Green Gym? I’m sure you have, maybe you don’t know what it refers to, but you’ve likely heard of it -this is because it is well documented – and even prescribed – as a way to improve our lives. It gets people outdoors doing exercises and gardening/conservation work to improve mental health and physical wellbeing. As I’ve said, it’s well known for its benefits.
The lesser known one, though, is the Blue Gym. This was created in 2009 and it’s actually a project to study the potential benefits of our blue spaces on mental health and wellbeing and if people can be encouraged to look after them. It has been inspired by the Green Gym concept to try and create a mutually beneficial relationship where we feel the advantages of working in the outdoors and at the same time can help our environment. By developing the Blue Gym, the founders hoped to promote more public awareness and direct involvement in the responsible use of blue space environments (coast, marine, rivers). Public gaze has been shifting from green spaces to blue, with our increased knowledge on the effects of things like overfishing and plastic/pollution on our marine and freshwater habitats.
In fact, this project showed that in urban environments adding areas of “blue” was preferred over those much-loved urban green spaces. Previous work by other authors had concluded that rural environments were preferred over urban ones – no surprise there. However, the Blue Gym study built on this and showed that urban environments with a “blue element” were found to be preferred as much as (or – in science speak – was not significantly different to) rural settings such as open countryside and woodlands with no built content. In my opinion, this is important. People willingly travel far and wide to visit these rural spaces, often paying to do so, for a sense of peace and tranquillity, to exercise, or “get away from it”. But what this “novel finding” points towards is that we don’t need to do this. We can gain a lot from our blue environment – even in less than ideal urban conditions. These spaces are already important to our mood and mind-set and we do not need to go far and wide to seek those feelings of tranquillity from rural spaces, we can get them from finding the blue in our own local places.
Furthermore, the Blue Gym puts forward suggestions and evidence on what we can do for blue space; e.g. protection and intention not to do harm, (i.e a “marine mind-set” – a readiness to address marine environmental problems or reduction in plastic consumption). Evidence of other avenues into activities that would make people more aware of how to care for the environment are abundant in the study. However, I want to focus on one statement Blue Gym cited from another paper that I found interesting from a mental health point of view:
“[the author] showed that feeling ‘restored’ in a freshwater environment was associated with willingness to protect this environment”
Now, I think that in times of poorer mental health we look for coping strategies and ways to deal with what life has dealt us. And maybe this is our answer. Look to your natural environment to feel restored. Find that blue in your local space, including in an urban environment. And, if it helps you to feel more mentally equipped and healthy?…maybe in the future you will return the favour.