The Blue Gym – Oceans and Human Health by Dr Fiona McGowan Senior Lecturer School of Health, Sport and Bioscience University of East London

Recently I was invited to join the editorial board of the Journal of the Marine Biological Association. With a background in health and social care, a PhD in medical sociology and my current role as a Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Health Promotion, I would seem to be rather an ‘atypical’ candidate for this role. My knowledge of biscuits is quite extensive but still limited to those, which are edible, and more usually prefixed with the word ‘chocolate’ rather than ‘sea’!!

However, this opportunity to contribute to a markedly different subject area, indicates something of a sea change (!!) Increasingly, as we learn (and experience) more about climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, the links between human health and the marine environment become ever more apparent. Though it is not all negative. For example, the concept of the ‘blue gym’ is a new area of research that explores how health and wellbeing are correlated to living near the coast and reveals the benefits of proximity to the sea on both physical and mental health.

The importance of ‘green space’ in improving mental health by alleviating stress and depression, enhancing and promoting physical activity is now well established. In comparison the ‘natural ‘ environment relating to water – the coasts and seas – is only just emerging as an influential determinant of population and individual health. Yet, this relationship is becoming increasingly important in light of rapidly growing coastal populations and climate change. Significant public health benefits can be bought about through a better understanding of the highly complex marine environment and human health interactions click on link below.

Oceans and humans

This illustrates some of the key areas where the risks and benefits for human health and wellbeing are linked to the marine environment.


These developments signal the need for greater interdisciplinary projects, partnerships and collaborations. My associate editorship is one small indicator of this. I am now involved in the planning of two special issues of the JMBA which will have a much broader remit, with contributions from those working in public health and health promotion, biological and environmental sciences, behavioural and social sciences – reflecting that though the focus of marine biology has traditionally reflected a reductionist ‘hard science’ approach, there is now a real need to be more inclusive, collaborating with academics, researchers, practitioners and professionals with wider areas of expertise relating to human health and wellbeing.


A further development is the Oceans and Human Health integrated research project – an interdisciplinary project which brings experts together not only from the field of marine science but also those representing environmental and social science, medicine and public health. Last month, the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) and the European Marine Board jointly organised the first OHH workshop where a number of key professionals, researchers and academics gathered to identify and discuss the risks and benefits from interactions with the coastal and marine environment. Most symbolic is that this event demonstrated the necessity of knowledge exchange, information sharing and wider community engagement. One of the key aims of OHH is to build an effective collaborative body of researchers and professionals working together to realise the ways in which human health and the blue environment impact each other– negatively and positively, indirectly and directly. For both, there are consequences, both damaging and beneficial, some more immediate than others – BUT only by gaining greater understanding and adding ‘weight’ through projects such as OHH can any meaningful action result.


As mentioned earlier, the intention of the forthcoming JMBA issues will be to promote, facilitate and encourage knowledge exchange between a wide range of disciplines. The common objective for ALL is to gain a better appreciation and greater understanding of the interdependency of human health and the oceans, seas and coasts.


For more information visit

( See ‘ A message from Bedruthan’ in the list of documents)

Dr Fiona McGowan

Senior Lecturer Public Health/ Health Promotion





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