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Great Lakes and Fresh Water Week focuses on connections between water and wellness

“Water-wellness connection.” It has a certain ring, doesn’t it? The major partners in Michigan’s Great Lakes and Fresh Water Week – the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – clearly thought so when they chose it as this year’s theme for the recognition that runs through June 9.

Mike Shoreman takes to the lakes on his paddle board. The Toronto native has paddled across all five Great Lakes and will join a webinar panel this week for Great Lakes and Fresh Water Week. Photo courtesy of Mike Shoreman.

Mike Shoreman takes to the lakes on his paddle board. The Toronto native has paddled across all five Great Lakes and will join a webinar panel this week for Great Lakes and Fresh Water Week. Courtesy of Mike Shoreman.


Water and wellness go hand in hand in ways that seem almost self-evident. Our spirits soar at the sound of rolling surf or the sight of a reflected sunset. We unwind by boating, fishing, or strolling the shore. Paddling, rowing, and swimming boost our physical fitness. Drinking water sustains our very lives.

Canadian paddle boarder Mike Shoreman looked to the Great Lakes for a challenge after physical and mental health crises that led to him to attempt taking his life. Mental health treatment renewed his will to live, and the moment he stepped back onto a paddle board during a slow physical recovery, he regained a purpose.

In 2022, Shoreman – a consultant, speaker, author, and filmmaker – made history as the first person with disabilities to paddle across all five Great Lakes. He’ll share his story in a SEMCOG webinar from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, June 6, titled “Fostering Connections to Michigan’s Water Wonderland for Wellness and Stewardship.” 

Emily Finnell, Great Lakes senior advisor and strategist with EGLE’s Office of the Great Lakes (OGL), will discuss the water-wellness connection with Shoreman and fellow panelists Dr. Debra Pinals, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ medical director for behavioral health and forensic programs; Tim Novak, trails section chief with the Parks and Recreation Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; and psychologist Dr. Michael Comer.

“I will review current research on the topic, including a survey of the literature and a research article conducted in Michigan correlating closeness to a Great Lake or inland lakes and the absence of anxiety,” Comer said. “There seems to be a positive connection between ‘blue space’ – being on, near, or in water – and positive mental health.”

Historically, well-being focused on physical health and nutrition, Pinals said, but people today are paying more attention today to a “whole health” approach that includes mental wellness. “It has long been understood that water access – through fountains or beaches or any kind of access – can be restorative,” she said.

The panel will also address resources and efforts to improve mental health and increase access to the Great Lakes and other Michigan waters for people of all abilities.

“I will be sharing the story of the 30-hour crossing of Lake Michigan and the incredible support my team provided me ensuring we met our target,” Shoreman said. “I will be discussing the need for emotional and psychological support for all. Looking at the mental health statistic we know as the ‘one in five’ who live with mental health challenges, we often focus on the one who is struggling. We could shift our focus onto the other four people in that equation – building team support for those who are struggling.”

Interested in the webinar? You can register in advance or watch a recording afterward.

Looking for other ways to make a Michigan water-wellness connection? Consider the following:

  • Calming influence: Water can have a naturally calming effect. Slow down and soak in the soothing sights and sounds of the Great Lakes and other waters. Share the mood with photos of a favorite peaceful spot near water or memories of a peaceful water experience for friends on social media. (Use the hashtag #MIGreatLakesWeek if you want.)
  • Mindfulness: Being near water encourages presence in the moment. Take time to simply sit by a lakeshore or riverside and observe the ebb and flow of the water. Can’t get to the water? Find a video online, turn up the sound, and stop scrolling for long enough to immerse yourself virtually.
  • Connection to nature: The natural world can foster feelings of awe, gratitude, and perspective – all of which contribute to mental wellness. Engage with the unique ecosystems and biodiversity of the Great Lakes region. Explore lakeshore trails, birdwatching spots, or wildlife preserves to deepen your nature connections.
  • Physical activity: Recreational and fitness activities such as swimming, kayaking, or walking along the beach promote physical exercise, which is known to boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Relaxation and reflection: Whether they happen while watching ripples on a peaceful lake or taking in a Great Lakes sunrise or sunset, moments of quiet contemplation can promote emotional well-being and inner peace.
  • Social connection: Activities on, in, or near the water often bring people together, whether for a day at the beach with friends, a river cleanup with a community organization, or a fishing trip with family (maybe on Free Fishing Weekend, June 8-9). Social ties strengthen mental health, and enjoyable experiences by the water can strengthen bonds and create lasting memories.
  • Sense of adventure: Water offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, from waterfall hikes to lighthouse tours to shipwreck diving and more. (But be responsible and stay safe!) Engaging in adventurous activities can boost confidence, resilience, and overall satisfaction with life.

Overall, it’s clear that time spent by or on water can improve practically anyone’s quality of life.

Novak said he plans to tell webinar attendees about DNR policy and programs focused on increasing access to Michigan’s natural resources for people of all abilities and highlight recent projects.

“For me personally, Michigan’s natural resources provide an avenue to find balance in my mental health and to maintain my physical health,” he said. “I love to hike, bike, and paddle, and we are very fortunate to have the resources right out our doors. The infrastructure provided by Michigan’s State Parks, trails, and waterways are integral to providing access for all to the beauty and tranquility of our state.”