The benefits of spending time in water are well documented, as are the ways that simply living near water is good for you. New studies are showing that spending time in and around water has positive impacts on both cognitive and physical health. Just to see and hear water can reduce cortisol levels, provide a burst of feel-good hormones, and boost blood flow.
According to marine biologist Wallace Nichols, “People can experience the benefits of the water whether they’re near the ocean, a lake, river, or swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain.” Even just focusing on an image of water can induce its effects.
The benefits of living near water are significant enough that the EU created the Blue Health 2020 initiative to study how water affects the body and mind. The aim is to invest in the waterways of European cities to draw more people.
Most major cities are on water of some kind—that’s how they became major cities. Nichols also asserts that, “Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because, as humans, we’re naturally drawn to blue space.”
That’s certainly true for me. A few years ago, I realized I’ve always lived near water of some kind… and that being near water is an important criterion to me in any place I choose to live.
When it comes to living near the water, though, the first image that pops into the head is a beach, right? But there are so many different kinds of water to live by…
The beach lifestyle isn’t for everyone. While some covet the sea and sand, others are happy to visit for just a couple weeks a year… and there are those who can do without altogether. I fall into the middle category. I love to spend a few weeks a year lazing and bronzing by a beach, but I’m not a diehard beach bum. For most of the year, I prefer to live in a city.
Knowing this about yourself—what kind of environment you’d be happy to live in permanently—is one of the first questions you’ll need to ask yourself as you think about moving overseas.
It’s very easy, though, to get caught up in the abstract if you’re not thinking of specific places. You need to be wary of seeing a place in black and white and making generalizations that can be helpful to begin with but that quickly become a liability to realistic thinking.
For example, there’s this idea that I’ve floated in the past—both in essays and at our conferences—that there are four main types of environment to choose from: beach, mountain, city, and small town. These are helpful starting points, but obviously superficial; you’ll need to think a lot deeper when you get past the beginning stages of your thinking.
There are countless variations on the above four destination types—too many to try list. But I want to take this one particular example that’s close to my heart: living near the water.
And, again, don’t get swept up in the idea that water equals beach. Look for the nuances and find your comfort zone. I know, for example, that I don’t need to be on the ocean—a river or lake will do just fine. But I also know that when I spend time in places with no major source of water, I get the feeling that something’s missing. That’s my comfort zone—some amount of water must be present and a part of the fabric of life.
It was my husband who pointed out this feeling in Medellín one year. The Medellín River runs through the city, but for the parts of the city where we spend most of our time, the river just isn’t a part of life. You might stumble across a creek as you walk through a park, but there’s no real water source where we tend to hang out. We’ve been to the river for the famous Christmas lights, so I know that this may not be true for everyone in the city. Those living closer to the larger end of the river probably feel differently. But it dawned on us that we missed water… it was a funny thing to realize.
It’s not that you have to spend time boating or swimming. Just having some water be a part of daily life is a special thing. I love hearing seagulls, because I’ve heard them for as long as I can remember and I associate them with good memories spent on or in or around the water. I appreciate that I still hear seagulls every day in Paris, despite the city not being coastal.
Aside from all the health benefits, there are other notable benefits to having water nearby. As well as fresh seafood, water also provides for interesting architecture—bridges, piers, ports, lighthouses, customs houses, and everything else that wouldn’t exist but for humans spending time on water. When I realize I haven’t seen any of these things in a while, I feel their loss.
I also appreciate all the opportunities for activity that water provides. There are the obvious water sports: swimming, boating, diving, etc., but what about those of us who don’t actually come into contact with our bodies of water? In most cases, those living in cities will have rivers to enjoy… from a distance. If you’re not keen to jump in a river that’s likely been polluted for hundreds of years already, it’s not the water sports themselves, but the chance to spend time next to it. Walking or biking along the Seine is not only one of my favorite pastimes in Paris, it’s also my main mode of transportation. And river cruises are always fun… even if they seem touristy.
And when you’ve had enough activity for the day, I can’t think of a better way to wind down than with a book and a glass of wine next to the sound of lapping waves.
Editor, Live and Invest Overseas Confidential