On cooler days, beaches beat stress best

WASHINGTON U.-ST. LOUIS (US) — There are peak times to visit the beach if you’re in search of a little rest and relaxation, a finding that suggests coastal parks should plan for the effects of climate change.

“Mild temperature days and low tides offer the most restorative environments when visiting the beach,” says J. Aaron Hipp, assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in environmental health.

“Beachgoers visiting on a day nearly 3 degrees warmer than average were 30 percent less likely to perceive the beach or coastal park as restorative, compared with those visiting on average or cooler than average days,” Hipp says. The beach was also perceived as less restorative if air or water quality was at- or below-average.

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For the study, Hipp and co-author Oladele A. Ogunseitan, professor of social ecology at the University of California, Irvine, surveyed 1,153 visitors to the beaches in the California State Parks system. That system was selected in part because the beaches are located in a densely populated urban region.

The findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, show that natural environments like beaches and waterfront parks offer more restorative benefits to people than gyms, entertainment venues, and constructed urban environments.

“Natural environments are vulnerable to global climate changes, including changes in air quality, water quality, increases in temperature, extreme weather events, and sea level rise. Few urban parks have planned for vulnerabilities to potential climate change on existing parks, much less the associated health effects to visitors, Hipp says.”

Parks can add shaded areas and improved access to water fountains for warm weather days. “The challenge in urban coastal areas is the parks cannot migrate inland,” he says.

“Public health and recreation departments must work together to ensure residents have safe, healthy alternatives for psychological restoration and physical activity on days with dangerous levels of air and water quality and when the tidal level is not conducive to play and relaxation on the sand.”

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