When you think of healthy activities, you probably picture morning jogs, yoga, maybe choking down a protein shake.
But research offers a surprising addition – staring at fish!
A study conducted in Plymouth, UK at the National Marine Aquarium found that after watching fish “people felt more positive” and “became more relaxed.” The study even noted reductions in blood pressure and heart rate.
This is not an entirely new concept. Past research has led many doctors’ offices and dental practices to include small aquariums in their waiting rooms with the intention of decreasing stress. But according to Deborah Cracknell, the Lead Researcher, “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 wellbeing.” It also demonstrated that adding more fish to an exhibit can enhance the beneficial effects for viewers.
More Information About the Research Study and Its Findings
Scientists from Plymouth University and the University of Exeter Medical School collaborated to conduct this study at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, UK. The University of Exeter reports, “The researchers benefited from a unique opportunity in order to conduct their study when the National Marine Aquarium refurbished one of its main exhibits – in a large 550,000 litre tank – and began a phased introduction of different fish species.”
In their report, the researchers explain how they took advantage of the situation by venturing to measure “behavioral, physiological, and psychological reactions to increases in levels of marine biota.” To do this, they divided the test subjects into three groups. The first group “viewed the exhibit when it contained only seawater and artificial decoration.” The second group viewed the tank when it was partially stocked, and the third viewed the fully stocked tank. The goal was to determine whether participants viewing a fully stocked tank would experience greater results than those viewing a partially stocked tank.
As it turned out, the researchers were on to something. The study found that “increased biota levels were associated with longer spontaneous viewing of the exhibit, greater reductions in heart rate, greater increases in self-reported mood, and higher interest.”
The scientists suggested these findings could potentially help companies design better exhibits to “maximize the restorative potential of aquaria in health care environments and other stressful settings such as the workplace.”
How This Research Study Can Make Your Life Better
After learning about the beneficial effects of fish gazing, perhaps you’re ready to write your local mayor a letter petitioning for more aquariums. But you may not need a full-fledged exhibit to enjoy positive results. Past research cited in the study has discovered health benefits from simply having a fish tank in your house. “Riddick (1985) added an aquarium to the home of seven non-institutionalized elderly people and found that the aquarium group experienced a significant decrease in diastolic blood pressure (DBP) compared with two other groups […] with no fish tank to care for.”
If you’re interested in starting a home aquarium, here’s a helpful guide by Business Insider. The article provides numerous tips and also comes with a caution: “Despite all of the studies suggesting that aquariums reduce stress, it’s important to note that they can induce stress as well, especially if you’re in charge of the aquarium’s upkeep. Cycling the tank, performing periodic partial water changes, managing the filtration system, vacuuming the gravel and feeding the fish can be time-consuming and mentally taxing. Of course, if you’re worried that the upkeep may be too much to handle, you can always enlist the services of an aquarium maintenance company.”
If owning your own tank sounds too time consuming or expensive, consider visiting one of TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Aquariums in the United States. And start impressing friends with your new knowledge! When you see a co-worker looking stressed and overwhelmed, kindly suggest he go stare at some fish.
Featured photo credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Christopher Michel via flickr.com