Many people are drawn to the places where the land meets the water. Our planet is over 70 percent water and our bodies over 60 percent, so feeling innately connected to this element kind of makes sense. The vast, moving bodies of water that we can encounter at beaches, cushioned by warm sandy beds, are particularly soothing to some. Scientists, sociologists and psychologists have long studied why.
You may have heard that living near the coast is healthy. According to the Journal of Coastal Zone Management, this is particularly true for residents living in view of the ocean. Its 2016 study found younger, middle-aged and elderly groups who lived on the coast with views of the water all experienced positive psychological effects. “The positive consequences of exposure to the ocean were strongest for the elderly group,” the authors explain.
The blue hue of the water may be beneficial as well. “The color blue has been found by an overwhelming amount of people to be associated with feelings of calm and peace … Staring at the ocean actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state,” Clinical Psychologist Dr. Richard Shuster told NBC.
Meditative states have been shown to actually directly alter our brains in positive ways. During a study of “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the authors found that the areas of the participants’ brains responsible for learning and memory, emotional awareness and control, and empathy grew after practicing mindfulness meditation for eight weeks.
Spending time in salt water has long been thought to be healthy. Hippocrates described the healing effects of salty ocean water as “thalassotherapy” at around 400 BCE. Bathing hospitals were “special clinics that offered seawater bath treatments — as early as the 18th century,” explains Tanya Lewis of The Huffington Post.
Seawater holds within its waves “vital elements, vitamins, mineral salts, trace elements, amino acids and living microorganisms that can produce antibiotic and antibacterial effects to help promote a healthy immune system,” according to Livestrong. Also, the magnesium in seawater is thought to improve the appearance of skin and the action of swimming provides low-impact exercise and facilitates improved circulation.
Floating in itself is also heralded as therapeutic by some, in that it mimics the suspended and supported state of the womb. While isolation tanks vary greatly from a bustling seashore, they have been used for flotation therapy since the 50s.
The Sun, Sounds and Air
While applying sunblock is essential to protecting your skin, soaking up the sunshine and vitamin D is very healthy. “Because vitamin D is synthesized in the skin, healthy exposure to sun in doses has been proven to support bone growth and also prevents calcium loss in mature bones,” explains Nutritious Life. Many people are deficient in vitamin D and this state has been linked to seasonal affective disorder. Through heliotherapy or light therapy, people are exposed to wavelengths of light that mimic daylight as one means of addressing this seasonal depressive condition.
The flowing ocean breeze can feel like a respite for those accustomed to breathing indoor and/or urban pollution. Also, ocean mist (or waterfall spray) contains negatively charged ions, or oxygen atoms that have an extra electron. Like light therapy, negative ion therapy has been successfully used as a supplemental treatment for seasonal affective disorder.
The rhythmic sounds of the sea can also be calming. Watching the water move while listening to the waves churn activates our parasympathetic nervous systems, which is “responsible for slowing us down and allowing us to relax and feel more engaged,” Dr. Sally Nazari, host of the podcast Beyond the Couch, told NBC.
The Time Off
Finally, there are definitely purely physiological and cultural aspects of the calming nature of being at the beach. For most of us, when we are hangin’ at the beach, we are not at work, and are either playing or resting. This simple break from our daily routine and stresses helps us to feel more peaceful and well. Much of our cultural narratives and advertising also reinforce the notion that the beach is a good place to find yourself. “Just about any beach scene in pop culture portrays the locale as super-tranquil,” points out Christina Heiser of NBC.
If the beach isn’t your thing, maybe a dip in a river, lake or pool calms your soul — or maybe a coffee shop, fish-fry or metal concert is more to your liking. To each their own.
If you do love the beach, you can rest assured that a visit to the ocean is a good and healthy choice and hit the surf and sand guilt-free.
(all image are public domain)