You may think of a trip to an aquarium as an educational endeavour, but have you thought about visiting one when you’re feeling stressed? A new study, published in the Environment & Behaviour journal, shows that watching fish is a great way to de-stress and has an overall positive impact on your health.
The Soothing Effects of Watching Fish
Researchers from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University and the University of Exeter investigated volunteers’ responses to tanks containing various tropical fish. They examined the physiological effects that watching fish had on the participants and asked about their mental responses.
Results revealed that watching fish lowered heart rates and blood pressure, as well as leaving people in a better mood. It seems the calming presence of languidly moving fish has a real, measurable impact on your state of mind and general wellbeing.
The results are unsurprising, as fish tanks have long been associated with relaxation. You’ll often see them in places like doctors’ waiting rooms, where they have been placed in an effort to soothe the anxious. However, this is the first study to support the idea with scientific evidence.
The general observance of nature is something many find relaxing, but the researchers point out that becoming truly immersed in natural settings is not always possible or practical. Aquariums offers the relaxing, stress-reducing benefits of nature in an easily accessible setting.
“Our findings have shown improvements for health and wellbeing in highly managed settings, providing an exciting possibility for people who aren’t able to access outdoor natural environments,” says Dr Mathew While, Exeter’s environmental psychologist. “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 wellbeing of people without ready access to nature.”
“While large public aquariums typically focus on their educational mission, our study suggests they could offer a number of previously undiscovered benefits,” says Dr Sabine Pahl, Plymouth’s associate professor in psychology. “In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.”
If you want to experience the relaxing effects that this study’s participants benefitted from, there are plenty of great aquariums you can visit. Here are some of the UK’s most popular aquariums:
National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth
Why not visit the aquarium where this research was conducted? The National Marine Aquarium is the largest in the UK. You’ll see a wide variety of sea creatures, from the fish of Plymouth’s shores to tropical marine animals from the Great Barrier Reef. There’s also a daily interactive dive show.
Opening hours are 10am-5pm daily. Adult ticket prices range from £13.28 to £14.75, or £10.35 to £11.50 for senior citizens. Find out more here.
Sea Life, London
You’ll find just as wide a variety of creatures at London’s Sea Life, mostly from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For those who want to do more than observe, there’s a rockpool where you’ll have the opportunity to stroke the likes of starfish and crabs.
Opening hours are 10am-7pm daily. Adult ticket prices range from £19.98 to £23.50. Find out more here.
Sea Life, Manchester
There’s also a sea life in Manchester so you can view a similar range of fish in the north of England. You can even truly surround yourself with sea life by taking part in their one hour dive experience, which includes ten minutes underwater.
Opening hours are 10am-7pm daily. Adult ticket prices range from £9.95 to £16.95. Find out more here.
The Deep, Hull
The Deep offers audio-visual presentations and interactive exhibitions to give you the opportunity to learn lots of fun facts about the marine life you’ll see here, which includes sharks, turtles and penguins.
Opening hours are 10am-6pm daily. Adult ticket prices range from £10.57 to £11.75, or £9.67 to £10.75 for senior citizens. Find out more here.
Deep Sea World, North Queensferry
Deep Sea World is one of Scotland’s most popular attractions. Its most popular features include an impressive collection of sharks and a large underwater viewing tunnel where you can enjoy wandering through the depths of the fish’s habitat.
Opening hours are 10am-5pm on weekdays and 10am-6pm at weekends. Adult ticket prices range from £11.50 to £13.50, or £10.25 to £11.50 for senior citizens. Find out more here.
North Wales’ SeaQuarium has an open seafront location where you can see species of sea creatures from around the world. One of its main attraction is the outdoor SeaLion Cove which is home to a group of harbour seals, offering you great underwater views.
Opening hours are 10am-5pm daily. Adult ticket prices are £9.50, or £8.99 for senior citizens. Find out more here.
Have Your Own Aquarium at Home
You don’t even have to leave your home to reap the relaxing benefits of watching fish. You can visit your local pet store, buy your own fish tank to fill with small sea creatures, and enjoy their soothing presence every day.
The demands of day to day life can make most feel stressed and anxious at times, so it’s worth seeing how watching fish every now and then could help you. Next time stress is getting you down or you could do with a general mood boost, try visiting your nearest aquarium.