THE OCEAN IS GOOD FOR OUR HEALTH
I’ve always loved the hit of plunging into the ocean – with or without a wetsuit. But until recently I didn’t have a clue why being in (and beside) the sea made me feel so good. Whether I was skipping over the dunes with a pair of fins for a bodysurf, stripping off for a quick sea dip on a coastal walk, or geared up for an hour or two chasing waves on my surfboard, the ocean has always beckoned me in and left me feeling high on life.
In recent years, as I surf, swim and hit the coastal paths in Cornwall more than ever, I’ve become more aware of how the ocean environment has a huge influence over both our physical and emotional states. And I’ve learnt that it’s not just my passion for the sea that’s had this effect on me, or the natural level of fitness its encouraged; it’s science. There’s plenty of evidence that being in and beside the sea boosts our health and wellbeing. Just for starters, each immersion into the cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, calming our fight-or-flight response, lowering cortisol, decreasing stress hormones and releasing the ‘feel-good’ dopamine hormone in bucket loads. So it’s little wonder that it leaves us feeling less stressed, more alert and better equipped to deal with the demands of everyday life.
Beyond its physical benefits, the immediate mindfulness of the ocean environment takes us away from stress on land and snaps us into a different, more positive mindset. As my surf hero and Blue Health ambassador Easkey Britton neatly sums up in her book Saltwater in the Blood: “What these places [the ocean environments] all have in common is that they allow me to leave my responsibilities behind and break the negative thought patterns, or ruts, that my mind has fallen into at work [or in everyday life]. They reconnect me with my own sense of aliveness.”
The reason for this is that being in the waves – or simply watching the waves – brings us back into the moment as our focus is drawn to the movement and light, removing us from internal thought patterns. So when we jump into the sea, whether for a swim, a surf or even just to paddle, we immediately react to the stimuli engulfing our senses: The light dancing on the water, the gulls swooping overhead, the tingle of the water on our skin, the sound of the breaking waves, the call of the oystercatchers… there is so much to take in, how can we not be wrenched from that internal, at times negative, dialogue? Dr Sarah Bell from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health explains: “Research is increasingly highlighting the ocean as a therapeutic environment, capturing the human imagination and interrupting the momentum of daily life with its dynamic rhythms, sounds, scents and scenes.”
A huge problem of our modern world is that our existence has become more and more disconnected from nature. “Despite how interconnected our health is with the health of the ocean, there is a strong, yet artificial divide between society and the sea. We live increasingly urban, indoor and sedentary lives, removed from the aliveness of the natural world. This emotional disconnect from nature has serious consequences for our health as well as the health of our blue planet.” Yet again Easkey Britton aptly sums up how our divide from nature is fuelling discontent, health and environmental issues, that could be rectified simply by reconnecting with the ocean, playing in the waves and rekindling our respect for the ocean.
At Family Surf Co. we’re passionate about the Blue Health lifestyle. As surfing mums who’ve experienced how the ocean has the power to boost well-being, lower stress levels and increase our fitness, we’ve launched our Blue Health Surf Breaks at Watergate Bay Hotel in spring 2022. The perfect introduction to surfing and blue health, these active weekend breaks bring together wave-riding and sensory beach experiences to leave you feeling reconnected, re-aligned and relaxed.
10 benefits of being in or by the sea
1: It activates parasympathetic nervous system, slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and relaxing the body.
2: Watching waves reduces stress levels and triggers a calming effect as the movement and light brings you back into the moment and removes you from internal thought patterns.
3: It encourages you to be more active – whether you choose surfing, swimming or just padding barefoot along the beach, the ocean encourages motion.
4: Swimming in cold water boosts your immune system and could even delay the onset of degenerative diseases such as dementia.
5: Sea air makes you sleep better because it’s generally fresher and cleaner, with higher levels of oxygen. Scientifically, sea air contains negative ions; oxygen atoms with an extra electron, which boost your body’s ability to absorb oxygen and help balance serotonin levels.
6: Immersing yourself in cold water can boost dopamine levels – the happy hormone – working to alleviate depression and anxiety.
7: Seawater is rich in nourishing minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium – many of which have powerful anti-inflammatory, skin-healing effects.
8: Being by the sea promotes better mental health – a study has shown that people living within 1km of the sea show optimal mental health and that visits to blue spaces including the beach can reduce the need for anti depressants.
9: The colour blue is linked with serenity and calm.
10: As we realise the ocean’s influence on us, we also realise our influence over the ocean and how were are connected to the ocean. This encourages us to protect and improve the ocean we love, through beach cleans and environmentalism.