The Healing Power of the Ocean
By Kimberly Boney
Vitamin SeaBy Kimberly Bonéy
If Relaxation was a destination on a map, it would, no doubt, be decorated with an immense blue sky, aglow with radiant sunlight and the reflection of a seemingly endless sea. The salt-kissed air would welcome us. The warm sand would be the soft, plush carpet at our feet. The birds would sing us a song, inviting us to come in and stay awhile. Puffy white clouds would drop by to say hello before floating off into the distance, waving us a sweet goodbye. We’d be flooded with joyful memories of days filled with laughter, love and the sound of crashing waves. We would treasure the feeling of frothed saltwater on our skin, rinsing our worries away.
The beach has enchanted the hearts and minds of those who need relief from the daily stresses of life since the dawn of humanity. While there are many aesthetic reasons the sea holds such charm, there’s a good bit of science behind it, too. Recent studies have indicated that “Blue Spaces,” a fancy term for locales with bodies of water, have the power to improve physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Being in proximity to water – lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, fountains and other man-made water structures – can promote physical, mental and emotional wellness. The sea, however, is the Blue Space that seems to have the most profound impact on health. During the 19th century, doctors prescribed sea bathing and fresh air as a treatment for everything from depression to heat-based illnesses. But what is it about Blue Spaces – and the sea, in particular – that have the power to heal?
Increased Levels of Vitamin D - Often associated with a healthy immune system and strong bones and muscles, the sun triggers our bodies to produce Vitamin D. Nearly one billion people in the world are Vitamin D deficient. While it is important to limit sun exposure to protect against skin cancer and other heat-based illnesses, time at the beach helps us reach optimal levels of Vitamin D.
More Physical Activity - Whether you are swimming, walking, running, surfing, canoeing or playing other water sports at the beach, or riding your bike, skateboard or roller skates on the boardwalk, you are directly combatting the health issues associated with physical inactivity, obesity and mental illness.
A Connection to Nature – We often forget how our connection to nature impacts our mental well-being. A trip to the beach gives us space and time to explore tide pools, watch birds soar through the sky, admire fish as they dance underwater, or learn a thing or two about the art of sunbathing from seals and sea turtles. In these moments, we are nurturing the intimate connection we have with the world around us.
Relief from Cognitive Fatigue – Life can be stressful. Bearing the mental and emotional load of all that comes at us as we move through the world can tire our brains and increase stress. Some researchers believe that water – the way the light reflects on it, creates patterns and engages our sense of wonder – can hold our attention subconsciously. Not having to invest in active thinking gives our minds the ability to concentrate at a higher level, a place to self-reflect and an opportunity to be restored to former glory.
Higher Air Quality – At the shore, the air is healthier. The sea breeze pushes pollution away, and the salt-laden air transports us back to the feeling of anticipation that is sure to come as we get closer to the beach. The balmy air typically greets us before we even begin to see the shore. That sweet, often coconut-scented aroma of tanning lotion and sunblock that marks our official arrival also can’t be underestimated. Our sense of olfaction has the power to transport us to a cherished spot on a sandy beach, in another place and time, with a single whiff.
The Power of Blue – The color blue is typically associated with a sense of calmness, spirituality, security and trust. It’s so well-loved, in fact, that Pantone, the color authority in the realm of design, selected Classic Blue as its Color of the Year for 2020. The beach has plenty of blue to offer – giving sanctuary to the weary eye, mind, body and soul.
A Calming Soundscape – The ocean drowns out the sounds typically associated with stress and replaces them with the crashing of waves on the shore, the lapping of water against our feet or the subtle sizzle of the sand as the water recedes back into the ocean.
Greater Social Interaction – Being near the sea creates opportunities for us to interact with others. Perhaps it’s the fact that the beach invites perfect strangers to jump into a game of volleyball or that, somehow, kids who have never met are willing to bring their pails and shovels together to build a sandcastle. Perhaps it’s the proximity to others that are soaking up the happy vibes at the beach that begets more positivity. Smiles are contagious, after all.
An Association with Happy Times – No matter where you live in the world, a visit to the beach is typically associated with joyful, carefree moments. Whether it’s the remembrance of a fun-filled trip to the beach from your childhood or of that killer vacation you took last year, the sense of nostalgia that comes with being at the beach carries its own healing power. •