5 Health Benefits of The Beach, According to Neuroscience
There’s a reason why going to the beach feels so good. The warm sun, sand between your toes and fresh ocean breeze. The health benefits of the beach can help counteract the long hours spent indoors, either at work or school.
If you are someone who prefers spending time indoors instead of frolicking in the sun and sandy waves, neuroscience would tell you otherwise. Aside from aesthetic beauty, the beach actually boosts our physical and mental health.
Health Benefits of The Beach
You know that relaxed feeling you get when you go to the beach? It’s not just all in your head. Science says that it’s a change in the way your brain reacts to its environment, leaving you feeling happy, relaxed and re-energized.
Scientists have dubbed this effect as “blue space” – essentially how your brain is affected by the soothing smells and sounds of water. This effect is enough to make you feel at ease, almost as though you were put under hypnosis.
In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, author J. Aaron Hipp, Ph.D., environmental health expert and assistant professor at the Brown School, looked at the restorative environment of the beach.
“Studies have shown that natural environments like beaches and waterfront parks offer more restorative benefits to people than gyms, entertainment venues and the built urban environment,” said Dr. Hipp (1).
His study suggested that we require specific conditions in a beach environment to fully receive the restorative benefits.
“Mild temperature days and low tides offer the most restorative environments when visiting the beach,” he said.
“Beachgoers visiting on a day nearly 3 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than average were 30 percent less likely to perceive the beach or coastal park as restorative, compared with those visiting on average or cooler than average days.”
So what do people experience when they make a day out of the beach? Here are just a few health benefits of the beach you might not have expected.
1. Great Source of Vitamin D
Sunshine is a great source of vitamin D. According to Harvard Medical School, you absorb vitamin D the best when it comes from the sun in UVB form (2). Sunlight reacts with a cholesterol-related compound and metabolizes into vitamin D.
You definitely do not want to be deficient in this vitamin. According to research, a vitamin D deficiency can be linked to the following health problems (3):
– Heart disease
– High blood pressure
– Autoimmune disease
– Multiple Sclerosis
– Chronic pain
In one study, sun exposure was shown to offer benefits such as an increase in endorphins and possible prevention of autoimmune diseases (4).
Since sunscreens block vital UVB rays needed for vitamin D production (not to mention they are full of harmful chemicals that create cancer in the first place), most doctors advocate “responsible sun exposure.” Sun exposure is safe, given you’re not staying out between the periods of 12pm and 3pm. Any sunlight you receive outside of these hours is fine. If you do need to be out between 12 and 3pm, make sure you’re using an all-natural sunblock after 30 minutes of exposure. I like the brand Raw Elements.
The effects that sand have on the body are numerous. Did you know that the soles of your feet have more sweat glands and nerve-endings per square centimetre than any other part of your body?
Walking barefoot on sand helps stimulate these nerve endings, while strengthening the muscles in your feet (great for plantar’s fasciitis). When we walk in shoes, the muscles of our feet and nerve endings don’t get enough stimulation from the ground below us – so going barefoot as much as you can is highly recommended.
Barefoot walking also helps you connect better to the earth, which allows you to reap vital mood-boosting benefits. This effect, otherwise known as “Earthing” reconnects our bodies to the ever-present energy of the earth, which modern lifestyles have increasingly diminished. Martin Zucker talks about this in his book Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?
Studies have also found that running and walking on the sand requires 1.6 to 2.5 times more energy than walking on a hard surface (5). This is because our muscles need to perform more mechanical work to tread through the not-so-stable surface, as say, a concrete slab would provide.
Wet sand also acts as a great exfoliant and peels off dead skin cells from your feet, leaving them renewed and much softer. You can even use the wet sand as a natural exfoliant for your face to unclog pores and prevent the formation of blackheads and acne.
3. Joint Support in All Respects
The minerals in the ocean are beneficial for those suffering from pain-related inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis. According to a study where patients made salt baths from Dead sea minerals, they experienced fewer symptoms like morning stiffness and trouble with hand gripping (6).
Walking in the sand is also gentle on our joints compared to walking on solid material like concrete. Similarly, swimming in the ocean provides a gentle (gravity-free) exercise that is easy on the joints and great for anyone living with body pain.
4. Heals & Detoxifies The Body
Sea water contains high levels of various minerals like magnesium, potassium, and iodine. These can help fight off infection, offer therapeutic effects, and help the body heal and detoxify. Even Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” used the word “thalassotherapy” to describe the healing effects of seawater.
Inhaling ocean air is also highly beneficial, as it fills you with negatively charged ions – molecules that attach to your lung tissue and boost your immune system (7). Swimming in seawater also helps open up the pores in the skin, allowing absorption of sea minerals and the expulsion of disease-causing toxins from the body.
Another benefit of seawater is that it helps facilitate circulation of blood in your body. Swimming or bathing in seawater improves circulation by restoring essential minerals depleted by stress, poor diet, and environmental poisons.
And of course – seawater is known for its beneficial effects on the skin. It helps heal wounds, acne, and essentially any other skin condition known to man.
5. Reduces Anxiety & Depression
If you haven’t already heard, it has been scientifically proven that sunshine can make us happier. A study conducted by the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia found that the amounts of sunlight participants’ received directly affected their mood (8). The team also found that with increased sunlight exposure, participants’ levels of serotonin increased, which improved stress levels, sleep and appetite.
Getting out and connecting with nature in general has a positive effect on those suffering from anxiety and depression. There is something to be said about the natural vibe a forest or beach gives off – and it’s definitely a positive one.