Gazing into aquariums and fish tanks may help improve your physical and mental well-being, according to new research from the U.K. published in the journal Environment & Behavior.
The findings show that, while looking at aquarium displays, participants exhibited a noticeable reduction in blood pressure and heart rate and an improvement in mood, particularly when there were a variety of fish in the tank.
“Fish tanks and displays are often associated with attempts at calming patients in doctors’ surgeries and dental waiting rooms. This study has, for the first time, provided robust evidence that ‘doses’ of exposure to underwater settings could actually have a positive impact on people’s well-being,” said Deborah Cracknell, Ph.D. student and lead researcher at the National Marine Aquarium.
In the first study of its kind, experts from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University and the University of Exeter assessed people’s physical and mental responses to tanks containing varying levels of fish.
The team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, and that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods.
While studies have shown that spending time in natural environments has a calming effects on people, there has been very little research into the role that underwater settings could have on health and well-being.
“Our findings have shown improvements for health and well-being in highly managed settings, providing an exciting possibility for people who aren’t able to access outdoor natural environments,” said Dr. Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at Exeter.
“If we can identify the mechanisms that underpin the benefits we’re seeing, we can effectively bring some of the ‘outside inside’ and improve the well-being of people without ready access to nature.”
The researchers were given a unique opportunity in which to conduct their study, as the National Marine Aquarium was refurbishing one of its main exhibits: a large, nearly 150,000-gallon tank that would include a phased introduction of different species of fish.
The researchers were able to assess the mood, heart rate and blood pressure of study participants in precisely the same setting because fish numbers in the exhibit gradually increased.
“While large public aquariums typically focus on their educational mission, our study suggests they could offer a number of previously undiscovered benefits. In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation,” said Dr. Sabine Pahl, associate professor in psychology at Plymouth University.
Source: University of Exeter