Beach time brings you special powers. Expansive views, natural sunlight changing with the clouds, watching wildlife, inspecting tidepools and always that murmuring water can free your mind, relax your body and ease your spirit. Science backs those benefits up.
Here are a few of the proven benefits as demonstrated by Dr. Heidi Hanna:
- Walk or run on the beach. The increase in physical activity improves circulation and reduces toxic stress hormones, like cortisol.
- Listening to waves has been shown to decrease blood pressure more than listening to relaxing music.
- Reducing noise from the city and our workplace technology relaxes the nervous system.
- Exposure to natural light can decrease the effects of depression and increases Vitamin D which is needed for metabolic energy, healthy bones, immune function and more.
- Salt water is full of good minerals. Give your feet a natural exfoliation from walking barefoot in the sand and play in the water for the minerals.
Watch and listen to this beach time video for some Vitamin Sea:
Counter the blues and blahs
As a writer, I’m in a dark office on a computer many hours a day. Getting outside always lifts my spirits but one weekend I couldn’t shake off a case of the blues. It was affecting my work and relationships. Thinking back to the last time I felt free and energized reminded me of visiting SE Alaska (see the beauty of that natural environment in this earlier post.) Ketchikan is an island full of green vistas. Being along the Inside Passage between the open sea and Canada means there’s no surf, but the sounds of lapping water and the ocean aroma are wonderful for the spirit. I remembered that the chemical serotonin, which makes you feel good, is increased in sunlight. It was time to get outside.
Case Study: The Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Reserve
Out I drove to the coast and ventured to a new place, the Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Reserve south of San Diego. The long beach is accessed south of the Imperial Beach Pier. There’s a signed entrance next to the road that will lead through the low brush and a long path to the beach. I drove further towards a row of apartments rising from the strand between the estuary and the ocean. Just west of the buildings was a long parking lot. From there I walked to the ocean and left footprints all the way down to where the Tijuana River flows into the sea.
Much has been written about water quality issues along that strand as sewage and garbage from Mexico can overflow the US water system and run into the ocean. It’s a big problem after heavy rains but there are times when the water’s fine for swimming. The prevailing wisdom is to check in before you get in I didn’t need the reminder. This was a beach walk was not a bathing day.
How to capture the beach time benefits when you don’t live by the ocean
The company Reef is serious about beach time and has developed several ways to take your brain to the sea.
It’s all in the setup. You’ll need a fan for a cooling breeze, perhaps a video or audio of beach sounds and essential oil to mimic the neural experience of negative ions. They recommend blending a lifting aroma like citrus, bergamot, grapefruit or lime with a grounding fragrance like frankincense or Douglas fir. The following suggestions incorporate a yogic breathing technique.
- Remove your shoes
- Get into a relaxed, supported position
- Exhale to a count of about 6 and inhale to about 5
- Enlist all your senses – especially sight, sound, and smell
- Focus on something you’re grateful for
- Keep the breathing cycle going for several minutes
Nix this beach time liability: Too much sun
Save your skin and avoid dangerous rays that can lead to skin cancer. Get to the beach early and stay out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use a sunscreen whether the sky is overcast or clear. The UV rays that can lead to burns and skin cancer penetrate cloud cover. Hats don’t eliminate all the exposure either.
It’s more than a trend to use reef safe sunscreen – it protects the ocean that we love. Research has proven that certain ingredients which block the sun rays on our skin actually infect corals and fish in devastating ways. Dr. Craig A. Downs, Ph.D., executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory quoted in Travel and Leisure magazine, tested more than 50 sunscreen brands, looking at specific chemicals and discovered that oxybenzone and octinoxate are the main culprits. Look for them as well as paraben preservatives in the sunscreen you use and avoid those ingredients.
Apply sunscreen often.
Dr. Downs suggests using a “very good SPF 30 that’s gone through rigorous FDA-required testing for water resistance.” Then reapply it every 80 – 90 minutes whether you’re in the water or not.
Going to the beach has been a ritual in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was in grade school family vacations included falling asleep to the sound of waves in a giant army tent. In high school, I’d pack my VW with friends and wrench the clutch all the way to the Newport Pier. (Yes, that clutch was replaced once before I finally got the knack of driving with a stick shift.) I spent long afternoons baking in the sunshine before we knew better. Today I live a few miles from the shore and rarely take advantage of the health benefits that walking the sand can bring – but that’s going to change. How are you going to take advantage of real or virtual beach time?