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?
Elaine, thanks again for the reminders to slow down and enjoy. Too often we forget. I particularly like to be reminded of how and why to visit the beach. I’m really more of a mountain guy, but the beach is a close second. They both have their advantages.
I agree about both the mountains and the sea having separate advantages. It’s interesting that people often favor one or the other. I’ve always been a water-baby, scuba diving deep near a tropical reef is my happy place.
For me, a beach has to be on the ocean, not a lake, and I don’t live near an ocean. But you’re right: I always feel better and more relaxed when I’m near the ocean. For me, a lot of it is not about the sound or the feel of the sand; it’s about the smell: the salt water smell, but also sometimes the sulphur smell of low tide. That’s why a lake just doesn’t do it for me. I’m looking forward to this summer, when my husband and I will take a cruise up the coast of Norway, which wil mean a whole week of ocean smell!
You’re right about the aroma of the sea. I love it too but for me it’s not the smell but something fresh in the air. Lucky you to be cruising Norway. Lots of Vitamin Sea!
Love this post, Elaine! I can never get enough Vitamin Sea! I love living by a large lake. But I adore the ocean, and would love to live close to one sometime soon. I’ve been landlocked here on the Prairies far too long.
Sounds like you need to spend more time by big water! I’ve been fortunate to live close to that most of my life. Can’t imagine being far from the ocean now.
I did not know that listening to the ocean waves is better for reducing blood pressure than listening to music. As if I needed another reason to go to the beach… (!) I enjoyed reading this.
Thanks, Tami. I need to pay better attention to this fact and put it into practice more often.
I think I agree with all your tips and folks would find them useful. The ideas for recreating the seaside atmosphere is great too. 🙂 🙂
I know nothing can replace the original – being by the sea – but loved the idea of creating playfully with an intentional atmosphere.
You are so right! Loved this post. Even though I’m only eight minutes form the beach, I don’t go except when traveling. Then I feel refreshed and energized. Thanks for the reminder, to get out and hit the beach more.
We’re so lucky to be close to the ocean. I need to keep reminding myself to get out and near the water.
I leave on holiday tomorrow and so looking forward to some vitamin sea. Will definitely incorporate these tips!
Thanks, Nicole. I hope your vacation has been all you dreamed of and full of vitamins.
I totally agree that going to the beach is great medicine. You had everything we do at the beach listed except pick up trash. We always bring some extra garbage bags and pick up a few bags worth of other peoples trash. No matter what you do at the beach, it is good for your soul!
What a wonderful idea. I’m going to follow your lead the next time I go. I’ll often do a powerwalk near the ocean and pick up bits of plastic but carrying a garbage bag would be so helpful.
I’m such a beach-person: Enjoying it with all my senses. I’m very happy that I live close to two seas so I can enjoy beaches, salt, hikes in the sand and a strong breeze quite often.
Aren’t you lucky?! Love all those things about the sea as well.
What a gorgeous place Elaine. Magical. Salt water is amazing for your hair, skin and overall wellness.
Thanks, Ryan. The estuary was such a wonderful discovery after living in San Diego for nearly 20 years.
Beach time surely is magical. It is a sure fire way of calming down my nerves. Unfortunately its virtual beach time for me. Im trying to practice focusing on things Im grateful for daily. It puts you in a much nicer mindset. A reef safe sunscreen is also such a great tip. We need to be responsible travellers, protecting nature as well as our skin.
Virtual it is then as long as you’re taking care of yourself. I hope you get to the real thing soon.
I lived on the water for a year and loved falling asleep to the sound of the ocean. This inspired me to pull out an old alarm clock that has ocean music setting to got to sleep to… that would be way more beneficial than my usual Real Housewives background noise
Funny and so lucky to have lived close to the sound of the ocean. I like the idea of going asleep to the sound of the sea.
I need to lower my stress AND I live close to a beach. No excuses and a great reminder. I’m stopping for a few hours after work today!
Aren’t we lucky to be able to stop by for some Vitamin Sea?!
This post made me miss our favourite beach in South Africa, where we’ve made many happy memories over 25 years. There’s so much truth in all you say – the breeze in your hair, salt on your skin, and sand under your feet. Where else are you so in touch with the elements? Honestly, I don’t know if virtual beach time will do it for me. If I can’t have the beach, I’d rather find a forest to connect with nature .
That’s a lovely way to put it and I agree that a forest has many of the same benefits.
Great tips and thoughts about being by the ocean and benefits of the sand, sun and other positive vibes, I love being outdoors and the beach is definitely one of my fav things to do.
Thanks, Noel. I sometimes write what I need to remind myself of too.