Blue Hour: A Common Prescription for Improved Mental Health and Mood
What they may not realize is that as they’re walking by the water, they’re both positively affecting their mental health and wellbeing. A study published in 2015 by Stanford University psychologists, Gregory Bratman, Gretchen Daily, Benjamin Levy, and James Gross, examined differences in the psychological effects of walking in urban settings as compared to walking in nature.
While there are psychological benefits to exercise in general, the researchers found that participants who walked in a natural setting experienced improved performance in their working memory.
These participants also experienced decreased anxiety and an improved mood, a suite of psychological characteristics referred to as “affective benefits”.
Among many others health issues, Nichols writes about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and early research investigating water-related therapies that may potentially benefit Alzheimer’s patients.
One promising issue that Nichols discusses is recent research that aerobic exercise may increase the number of brain cells related to learning and memory, and that swimming in particular has been found to help maintain people’s cognitive abilities as they get older. Research is ongoing.
Of note, Nichols writes not just about the benefits of spending time in and around natural water, but also about the importance of hydration for proper brain function. Dehydration, even the mild sort, can not only cause fatigue and anxiety, but can also impair memory, reaction times, and perception. People getting exercise in the water can be less aware of how much water their bodies have lost, because they’re not aware of their perspiration.
The blue hour, a regular time set aside for exercise or relaxation in, on, or around the water, offers a wide range of benefits, not the least of which is that it’s an enjoyable way to spend time with friends or grandkids.
For those living in the Chesapeake Bay area, there are more opportunities to create a blue hour than anyone could possibly take advantage of. Between the Bay itself, the rivers---both placid and wild---that feed it, the lakes and canals in the area, and the ocean not far away, there’s a setting for every season. With opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, cycling, or walking around a waterfront there’s a physical activity for every ability and for whatever mood strikes you.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources manages parks all across the state, including many with access to water. The Maryland DNR website offers an outdoor activities page that allows users to choose an activity and find all of the state parks that offer it. Among many others, are blue hour activities, such as swimming, boat rentals, canoeing and kayaking, and fishing. The full list of activities (and associated parks) can be found at: http://dnr.maryland.gov/Publiclands/Pages/default.aspx
Back on the boardwalk the little girl suggests that it’s a good time for ice cream. Grandpa suggests that breakfast might be a better start, and they’re on their way to find a place where they can eat and watch the water. As they go, grandpa begins reciting, “When I was down beside the sea, a wooden spade they gave to me…” The girl smiles. It’s a good day.