New Brunswick

Living next to water could make you live longer: study

Research has found a correlation between urban dwellers living within 250 metres of water and a reduced mortality rate.

UNB researcher found a 12 to 17 per cent reduction in mortality rate

Living within 250 metres of a body of water, like the Saint John River, could decrease a person's risk of dying by 12 to 17 per cent, according to a new study. (Submitted by Nancy Hall)

A new study suggests people living next to water may live longer lives.

Dan Crouse, a research associate at the University of New Brunswick, discovered a similar correlation with urbanites' proximity to green spaces in a 2017 study. As an ongoing exploration of the health benefits from exposure to natural environments, he turned his attention to "blue spaces."

"There's been an increasing amount of research looking at green space, but a lot less looking at water and living near water," Crouse told Shift New Brunswick.

"A lot of people intuitively know that when you go to the beach or when you have a view of the water, it's relaxing, it's calming and it can reduce stress."

The study

Researchers used data from the 2001 long-form census linked with 11 years' worth of postal code data and the national mortality database as well as mapping data.

Crouse, the lead researcher, saw a 12 to 17 per cent reduced risk of dying for people living within 250 metres of a body of water compared to the rest of a city's population.

Dan Crouse, a research associate at UNB, was the lead researcher on the study. ( Rob Blanchard/University of New Brunswick)

"I picked 250 metres as a distance where people might reasonably have a view of the water from their home or their property or when they're out and about in their daily activities," he said.

"They'll be able to hear the water in bed at night, which can be a soothing sound."

The research indicates a benefit — a reduced risk of dying — from living even 500 metres away from water, but once you reach a kilometre, the data shows no difference in the risk of dying compared to the rest of the city.

Crouse's research examined the country's 30 largest cities, which includes Moncton and Halifax. The bodies of water that apply are rivers, lakes and oceans.

An aerial view of part of the Halifax waterfront.
Halifax was among the 30 major cities included in the study. (Robert Short/CBC)

Crouse said it's fair to suggest living near the water is good for your health.

"I'm always reluctant to make a causal statement. It's only one study," he said. "I think it's a very good study design and we did a lot of rigorous sensitivity analysis with the data."

Possible limitations

How long you need to live near water to make a difference — the "dose response" — was not addressed in the study, he said.

The study doesn't account for factors like smoking, diet or lack of exercise — a possible limitation of the study.

"It's possible that people who tend to have healthier behaviours are those that maybe value living in that place," Crouse said. "They may be the ones that choose to live near the water."

Last year, Crouse was part of a team of 11 researchers that looked at the data from 1.3 million people over 11 years to determine how greener environments affect mortality rates in cities across Canada.

They found being around trees and other vegetation reduced the risk of dying from several common causes of death — including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases — by between eight and 12 per cent.

Crouse said a direction he would like to take the ongoing research is to examine that "dose response" as well as differentiating between bodies of water.

"Here, I treated any kind of water as they were all equal, but, as you can imagine, having a view of the ocean is very different than a view of a small interior lake."

With files from Shift New Brunswick