Why watching fish in an aquarium can make you feel better – plus see 5 soothing virtual aquariums

Discus, tropical decorative fish

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The way fish swim and flit around an aquarium isn’t just interesting to watch — the very act of looking at such water scenes has proven benefits to human health, too.

Aquariums flow some benefits

It might sound a little fishy at first, but people who spend some time watching aquariums and fish tanks could see improvements in their physical and mental well-being, according to research.

In the first study of its kind, experts from the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University and England’s 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 spending time in ‘natural’ environments has been shown to provide calming effects on humans, there has been very little research into the role that underwater settings could have on health and well-being. Deborah Cracknell, PhD Student and Lead Researcher at the National Marine Aquarium, conducted the study, published in the journal Environment & Behavior, and believes it provides an important first step in our understanding.

“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.”

beautiful underwater world
Photo by EwaStudio/Envato
Aquarium stress relief: Mood, heart rate and blood pressure

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 liter tank — and began a phased introduction of different fish species.

They were able to assess the mood, heart rate and blood pressure of study participants in precisely the same setting as 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,” says Dr Sabine Pahl, Associate Professor in Psychology at Plymouth University. “In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.”

“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,” says Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of 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.”

5 soothing virtual aquariums to relax you

There’s already evidence that watching fish in an aquarium can make you feel better and less stressed.

But if you don’t have a fish tank handy, these virtual aquarium videos offer a handy way to chill out — no matter where you are right now.

Moody Gardens Aquarium

60 minutes of Moody Gardens Aquarium in Galveston, Texas, with natural wave sounds.

Kuroshio Sea – Second largest aquarium tank in the world

The main tank called the ‘Kuroshio Sea’ holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world’s second largest acrylic glass panel, measuring 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters with a thickness of 60 centimeters. Whale sharks and manta rays are kept among many other fish species in the main tank.

Virtual aquarium with bubbles

Not only do aquariums prove to be visually hypnotic, they can be set up so they provide the calming sounds of running water which can completely add to the relaxing effect they already have.

Tropical aquarium

Color therapy

Colorful fish and mood lighting in an aquarium

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

Nancy J Price & Betsy Bailey

We're Nancy and Betsy, and we've been adventuring in the digital world since the mid-90s -- truly making us that type of entrepreneurial internet pioneer Gen X is known for! We started Myria.com back in 1998 and later launched SheKnows.com -- among various other online and print projects. Our partnership has spanned decades and crossed state lines (multiple times!). Nancy currently resides Arizona, and Betsy's newest home base is Minnesota. It's been an incredible journey of collaboration and innovation. You can read more about our story here!

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