Everything we do, whether it’s drinking, eating, bathing, cleaning, breathing, exercising, relaxing, or even thinking, is related to water. Recent studies reported in the British Journal of Nutrition have shown that a person’s ability to concentrate progressively declines when the body is subject to a water deficiency of just 1-2%. Water can also help prevent and treat disease, cleanse and replenish our bodies and our systems so they run more efficiently, and rehabilitate and improve our overall well-being in the most natural way.

New research has found that 'blue space' including sea, rivers, lakes and even urban water features can have a positive impact on wellbeing. Research conducted by Professor Michael Depledge, formerly the chief scientist for the UK’s Environment Agency before founding the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) in Plymouth in 2011, found that the closer you live to the English coast the healthier you are. There was some evidence that other aquatic environments helped too, such as putting fishtanks in healthcare settings such as for Alzheimer's patients, or in nursing homes to enhance the wellbeing of residents. A Water and Wellbeing Week was also launched in the UK, highlighting the benefits of water.

Water quality and pollution are also significant factors, for which more information can be found in the general Water section.

Healthy Water Spaces

Water based activities provide several important health benefits to individuals, including:

  • taking pressure and weight off your body
  • being soothing and therapeutic, subsequently supporting mental well-being
  • being low impact – joints and muscles are under less stress when in water
  • using nearly all of your body’s muscle groups (when using full swimming techniques)
  • supporting women during pregnancy as the water supports the weight of the baby
  • benefiting older people and people with health conditions, such as osteoarthritis and obesity, as the water supports your weight and keeps you cool.

For instance, research suggests that just two and a half hours per week of aerobic physical activity such as swimming can decrease risks of chronic illnesses. Swimming can also lead to improved health for people with diabetes and heart disease. Swimmers have about half the risk of mortality in comparison to inactive people. People also report enjoying water-based exercise more than exercising on land. Prolonged periods of exercise in water are also possible without increased effort or joint or muscle pain compared to land-based physical activity. For people with arthritis, water-based activities improves use of affected joints without worsening symptoms. Water-based exercise also supports the use of affected joints and reduces pain from osteoarthritis, and can also improve mental health.

Rivers, lakes and seas are integral to Irish culture, and offer a fantastic place for recreational activities, such as swimming, kayaking and fishing. Water activities can include some or all of the four types of activity vital for wellbeing and quality of life – aerobic, balance, flexibility and strength. It is important to engage in activities that cover some or all of these activity types, particularly as we get older. One negative to swimming is that it is not optimal for increasing bone strength because it is not weight-bearing. Swimmers should subsequently supplement their aquatic training with some weight-bearing exercise, like weight training, walking, dancing, stair climbing, or gardening.

When in water, remember to protect yourself and others from illness and injury by practicing healthy and safe swimming behaviours. More information on water safety in Ireland can be found on the Irish Water Safety website.

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