Life hacks

Researchers have found sailing is good for your mental health – and developed a way to do it without getting wet

- June 28, 2024 2 MIN READ
virtual sailing
Virtual sailing could assist with mental health treatment according to researchers at Swinburne University of Technology, who’ve launched a world-first digital project to manage Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).​

The Swinburne researchers will use the cutting-edge technology of industry partner Virtual Sailing, which involves a sailing simulator (a boat with highly realistic movement on sailing navigation) and a computer with a screen.​

​The research involves a controlled clinical trial combining virtual reality with sailing, measuring brain activity and investigating its effectiveness as an intervention to treat MDD.

The trial aims to delve deeper into the benefits of exercise-based therapy, which is widely acknowledged for its positive impact on mental health.

As an intervention for MDD, virtual sailing is favoured over the water-based alternative because of its inclusivity and accessibility, allowing everyone to participate safely on dry land under controlled conditions.

By merging cutting-edge technology with an immersive sailing experience, participants will engage in active motor learning activities, a key component of the study. The technology includes real-time interaction between the simulator’s movements and the person controlling the boats steering and sails.

The research is supported by $100,000 from the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund.

Major Depressive Disorder costs the Australian community $1.1 billion annually. A 2019 Macquarie University study estimated that by 2025, depression would cost those experiencing it around $1.3 billion a year in lost income, alongside $479 million in addition welfare payments and $361 million in lost tax revenue.

​Lead Swinburne researcher Dr Junhua Xiao said that despite the staggering economic impact, there are few effective strategies known for managing MDD, in particular people with treatment resistance.

This project hopes to fill this critical gap,” said Dr Xiao.​

“Building upon Swinburne’s research eco-system, this collaboration exemplifies the potential of academic-industry partnerships to transform lives and drive meaningful health innovation and impact.”

​The impact of the research extends beyond just treatment for MDD and could pave the way for potential future treatments for conditions such as dementia.

The portable virtual sailing technology has the potential for widespread implementation in community healthcare services, hospitals, and aged care facilities.

Virtual Sailing managing director and CEO Norman Saunders says if the trial is successful, this intervention approach could be rolled out in health and wellness centres.

“The combination of physical and cognitive activity required has been shown in preliminary studies to be medically beneficial,” he said.