Researchers and urban planners alike have been paying a lot of attention in recent years to the positive impacts of green space. However, the benefits of “blue spaces,” especially the seas and coastlines, haven’t been as well-publicized.
Despite the lack of publicity, there has been a wide consensus among scientists for at least the past ten years that living by the water is beneficial to people’s mental health and physical wellbeing. In fact, doctors in some countries have been recommending seaside convalescence for patients struggling with a variety of disorders since the mid-19th century.
Though not everyone can afford to live right on the coast year-round, modern Americans can take advantage of the curative properties of seaside living by planning summer vacations in coastal destinations. Read on to see how the science stacks up when it comes to the benefits of spending time by the sea.
Gain an Improved Sense of Wellbeing
Multiple studies have shown that living near blue spaces can improve people’s sense of wellbeing, but one 2013 study performed in England by the University of Exeter stands out. The study used self-reported health information from the Natural England database to evaluate how wellbeing correlates with proximity to water. It found that the closer participants lived to the coastline, the healthier they were.
Though there is evidence that lakes, rivers, streams, or even fountains can provide some of the same benefits as seaside living, the effects are less pronounced. The strongest correlate was between overall wellbeing and living within 1 km of the coast, though people living within 5 km of the coast also experienced noteworthy benefits.
The best part is, there’s no need for people to spend 100% of their free time at the beach. Even planning regular seaside vacations can increase people’s sense of wellbeing for some time after they return to their normal, urban lives. Families who want to take advantage of that fact can get help at Great Point Properties with finding the right seaside vacation rentals.
Ward Off Depression and Anxiety
Coastal living doesn’t just improve ordinary people’s sense of wellbeing. It can also help those who struggle with depression or anxiety to manage their conditions more effectively. As with measures of overall wellbeing, the proof is in the research.
The same University of Exeter team responsible for uncovering the correlation between coastal living and overall wellbeing in 2013 also published research in 2019 that backed up their findings and focused more on mental health symptoms. The researchers surveyed nearly 26 thousand England residents and asked about mental health symptoms and coastal proximity. People who lived less than 1 km from the coastline reported 22% fewer adverse mental health symptoms than those who lived more than 50 km away.
People who are afraid of swimming in the ocean may be wondering at this point if the study results apply to them. The good news is, there’s no need for people who are afraid of the ocean to so much as get their toes wet to experience the mental health benefits of visiting the ocean. Just looking out over the sea can help them gain perspective and stop worrying so much, and almost everyone finds the sounds of the waves to be quite calming, even when heard from afar.
Develop Healthier Sleep Habits
The air near the sea is usually fresher, cleaner, and more oxygenated. All of these factors can contribute to getting a better night of sleep. The negative ions found in the air near the sea can even accelerate the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and help to keep serotonin levels balanced, making it easier to get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling well-rested.
In 2015, a study performed by researchers with the National Trust confirmed that people who hike the beaches and breathe in fresh, clean sea air during the day sleep for an average of 47 minutes longer each night. The study compared this to a control group that performed inland hikes of similar lengths to confirm that it was, in fact, the sea air that helped.
When comparing the results from the experimental and control groups, it became clear that seaside hikes truly were more beneficial. The control group that hiked inland only slept an average of 12 minutes longer than they did when they were less physically active.
Reduce Physical Stressors
The mind and the body are strongly interconnected, which means that physical ailments can dramatically impact mental health. Thankfully, living near the ocean can also confer physical health benefits. The seawater is rich in essential minerals, including:
Many of these minerals have anti-inflammatory and curative effects on the body, and especially on the skin. One 1999 study performed by researchers with the University of Freiburg found that the combination of immersion in seawater and increased UVB radiation associated with trips to the beach improves both psoriasis and dermatitis, and that’s just one example of the ocean’s curative effects.
The air near the sea also contains a high concentration of saline water, which can soothe the mucosal linings of the respiratory system. In the 19th and 20th centuries, doctors often recommended that patients suffering from conditions like tuberculosis (TB) and consumption spend time by the sea. Now, modern science has backed up the Victorian doctors’ assumptions about the curative nature of ocean air and extended them to apply to people with other respiratory conditions such as sinusitis, as well.
When people suffering from chronic respiratory or skin conditions can find relief from their physical ailments, they also note improvements in their mental health. Adequately controlling chronic health conditions can reduce depression, anxiety, and other worrisome mental health symptoms.
Make Exercising Easier
For those who want to maximize the mental health benefits of living by the sea or visiting the coast, it’s not enough to just spend time enjoying the sand and the surf. Physical activity also plays a vital role in maintaining optimal mental health, and people who live by the sea tend to be more active than their inland peers.
One 2014 study evaluated recent findings regarding the health improvements of living by the ocean and extended them to evaluate levels of physical activity among coast-dwellers. It found that people who lived within 1 km of the sea in England were much more physically fit than their inland counterparts, largely because they were more likely to get regular exercise.
The sea itself offers up plenty of opportunities for getting active in fun ways. People can swim, surf, sail, paddleboard, or adopt other seafaring hobbies that allow them to get in shape while simultaneously engaging in fun activities. Plus, the coastline provides perfect opportunities to stay fit through hiking, jogging, and running in the sand.
While physical activity in any environment can improve mental health, it has a greater impact when combined with the beneficial effects of being in a natural, coastal environment. In addition to getting exercise, people also have the opportunity to connect with nature while they’re out on the waves or moving across the sand. This kind of fully immersive experience can help to put a stop to negative rumination while simultaneously generating endorphins and endogenous chemicals that improve mood.
Adopt More Mindful Habits
Living by the sea makes it easier to become more mindful. The ocean has a meditative quality that is perfect for staying present in the moment and giving it full awareness. While some people enjoy heading to the beach to meditate or do yoga, even spending some time gazing out over the waves can induce a meditation-like state for most people.
It’s relevant to note here that the benefits of coastal environments to human mental wellbeing are directly tied to the health of the ecosystem. Heading to a beach that’s littered with garbage and rotting seaweed will be far less conducive to inducing a meditative state. Because people tend to commune with nature at the beach, many are drawn to environmental stewardship as a means of maintaining and improving natural spaces.
Mindfulness practices don’t have to be centered solely on the self. Mindful beachgoers can extend their practices to activities that benefit the coastal ecosystems. They can bring along trash bags to collect garbage when they go out on walks or get involved in local ecosystem restoration projects that will foster a human connection in addition to nurturing that established connection with the natural world.
People have long been drawn to marine environments, not just because the ocean has always provided valuable sources of food and other resources, but because spending time at the beach is an intrinsically relaxing and restorative activity. One of the best takeaways from all the recent research into blue spaces is that as it turns out, there’s no need to spend a small fortune on purchasing a year-round home right on the coast. Families of all income levels can find coastal rentals that will fit their budgets and use them on vacations to encourage everyone to take a step back from their normal, hectic lives and breathe a little easier.