Aquarium Therapy: 3 Study-Backed Benefits of Fish Tanks

Keeping an aquarium is a superb hobby that fosters marine education and ocean conservation, but did you know that it offers health benefits, too? Read about three studies that prove how aquarium therapy contributes to your mental and emotional health.

#1: It Reduces Patient Anxiety

If you see an aquarium at the waiting area of a clinic or hospital, don’t simply think it’s part of the interior design. Doctors may have placed it there for a better purpose: a healthy distraction.

In a 2004 study, 42 patients consecutively referred for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) were examined to monitor the effects of an aquarium on pre-treatment anxiety, frustration, fear, and depression. They were rotated between rooms with and without fish tanks while awaiting treatment. Participants in both test and control groups showed no significant difference in their blood pressure and heart rate, but they reported anxiety levels reduced by 12% in the company of an aquarium.

#2: It Lowers Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Contrary to the results of the study above, another study conducted by experts from the UK’s Plymouth University, National Marine Aquarium, and the University of Exeter revealed that fish tanks do have a positive effect on a person’s physical condition. The researchers assessed how 112 participants responded to a phased introduction of different fish species in a 500,000-liter tank at the National Marine Aquarium. They found that:

  • Heart rate reduced by 3% when the tank only contained rock and seaweed
  • Heart rate and blood pressure lowered by 7% and 4% respectively when the tank contained fish
  • Participants were in the best mood when the tank contained the most number of fish

Experts said that while public aquariums often emphasize education in their mission, the study suggests they can also offer a place for relaxation, especially for people who are unable to access outdoor natural environments.

#3: It Can Pacify People with Alzheimer’s Disease

In a classic 1999 study conducted by Purdue University, researchers learned that aquariums can improve Alzheimer’s patients’ eating habits and behavioral patterns. Nursing Professor Nancy Edwards monitored 62 individuals residing in dementia-specific units in three Indiana nursing homes. For 16 weeks she gathered data on how participants behaved before, during and after the introduction of a 30×20-inch aquarium with eight large colorful fish.

Results showed the fish tanks brought a 21.1% increase in food intake—a considerable improvement that paved the way for less nutritional supplements, less healthcare cost, and more importantly, healthier eating practices. Further, the aquariums increased the patients’ level of attentiveness. Viewing the aquarium for up to 30 minutes is a relatively long period for people with this diagnosis. Miss Edwards noted the colors, movement, and sound of the fish had provided a stimulating and interesting experience for the patients.

Why Does Water Calm Us?

In a Huffington Post interview with Wallace J. Nichols, the marine biologist said people have a “blue mind” which activates when we are in or near water. He describes this state as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.”

He further explained that finding your blue mind lets you enjoy a few benefits, two of which supports the positive effects of keeping an aquarium. First, he said water allows your brain to rest from overstimulation. The sound of water is far simpler than the sound of music, voices or a busy city. He also mentioned water can stimulate your meditative state. People love to stare at oceans because it gives them a sense of focus and awareness.

Can you attest to the health benefits of keeping an aquarium? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Leave a Comment