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Waterfalls - Their Affect On Us

Niagara Falls, American Falls on the left and the Canadian or Horseshoe Falls on the right. Notice the large boat in front of the island for scale.

Waterfalls affect people and animals nearby in a positive way, similar to the after affects of a heavy rainstorm the air is charged with positive ions. This was first documented in a scientific paper in 1892, although you also get these in fresh air in the country, and near larger fountains.

These negative ions have a positive impact on health, mood, and energy, affecting serotonin levels in the brain. Negative ions also bond with impurities in the air, adhering to suspended particles and removing them, producing the clean air we find in mountain ranges and the countryside away from pollution. 

Exactly why negative ions are good for us are not precisely known, but the affects have been proven in many clinical trials. Those who spend time in environments with a high concentration of negative ions are less likely to be depressed, are less prone to migraine headaches, have more energy, and simply feel better throughout the day.

The air around Niagara Falls or another turbulent water source, may contain between 30,000 and 100,000 negative ions per cubic centimetre, while the air inside an office or a sealed vehicle may contain anywhere from zero to a few hundred negative ions per cubic centimetre. The more disturbance there is in the water the more you find produced, so while a garden pond fountain or stream may produce some, the more impressive the waterfall is, the more likely it is that you will feel the affect. Some people are able to feel this affect directly while it affects everyone who is nearby although they may not be able to feel it directly. In some European countries, some institutions like hospitals are required to ionize their air.

This difference between "city air" and "country air"  has much to do with the modern devices we use, and even the fabrics we wear. Synthetic materials like plastics, and man made fibres, like nylon, carry their own positive charge which can neutralize the negative charge of beneficial ions in the air. Electronic devices, or more specifically, the electromagnetic fields they produce, including computer screens and TV sets also have the affect of neutralizing negative ions in the air. The buildings in which we spend most of our time also tend to be sealed to the outside world, so they don't allow for proper ventilation. The average office, typically a sealed environment with an abundance of computers and plastics, will generally have a very low negative ion count, probably only a few hundred negative ions per cubic centimetre. Since many of us today spend approximately 90% of our day indoors in environments like this, its no wonder we feel better on a hike in the mountains or when we visit a waterfall.

You might feel from this that there would be a range of waterfall therapy options, even maybe on the NHS, encouraging the depressed and unwell feeling city people and commuters to spend time at waterfalls to improve their health, mental attitude and general well being, but if there are, they are not very visible, instead you find artificial waterfall therapy being offered in spas, and small waterfalls to go in your home.

Waterfalls also encourage romantic feelings in people, Niagara being known as the honeymoon capital of the world. On any visit to waterfalls, at just about any time of the year, you will spot couples getting on very well, and probably better than they would in other locations.

In the UK the most effective time to go is of course when there is the most water going over them, and you may be surprised on these occasions that few others are present, most visiting in the summer in dry weather, when flow is often considerably less.

See Also the Waterfalls Section for more articles on waterfalls and how to photograph them as well as links to listings of them by country and individual locations guides.


By: Keith Park Section: Waterfalls Section Key:
Page Ref: waterfall_health Topic: Waterfalls Last Updated: 01/2011

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