For most of us, that thrill never goes away. From the exhilaration of playing in the surf to the soothing sound of the waves, there’s nothing like being beside the sea to lift your mood. But there are deeper, physiological reasons we feel drawn to the ocean. According to Dr Deborah Cracknell, honorary research fellow at Exeter University Medical School and author of By the Sea – the therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water (Aster, £14.99), there’s a host of ways your body and mind benefits. We caught up with the scientist to discover how you can reap the rewards whether at home or away.
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Aqua therapy Ever noticed how amazing you feel after a dip in the sea? It’s not just the energising effect of being in the waves – sea water offers a host of physiological benefits. Throughout history, warm seawater has been used to treat a range of ailments. Cleopatra is said to have soaked in the mineral-rich Dead Sea for its healing powers, and today people still bathe there to treat skin conditions. ‘In the mid-1700s, a British physician confirmed minerals in seawater – such as magnesium – could help treat a variety of medical conditions,’ says Dr Cracknell. ‘Every cell in your body needs magnesium, and it’s particularly beneficial for healthy muscles and bones.’ It also helps regulate your sleep – hence the popularity of floatation therapy – and the mineral can also soothe your skin. TIP: Can’t escape to the coast? Fill a bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and soak away stress.
There’s nothing like a lungful of salty, sea air to clear away the cobwebs. And research suggests there may be therapeutic benefits, too. ‘Alongside anecdotal evidence suggesting ocean air helped to clear the lungs of surfers suffering with cystic fibrosis, researchers have found inhaling an intensely salty solution helped to improve lung function and lessen other complications of the disease,’ says Dr Cracknell. Along with minerals, sea air is also abundant in negative ions, generated when air molecules are broken apart by the movement of air and water. ‘Many people believe negative ions may be beneficial for health by improving mood, relieving stress and aiding sleep.’ TIP: Don’t live near the sea? Negative-ion-generating devices can improve indoor air quality, removing fine particles and airborne microbials.
Soothing sounds There’s a good reason why spas often play sounds of the sea during treatments. ‘The sound of water is extremely restorative,’ says Dr Cracknell. ‘Research shows that the sound of ocean waves alters the wave patterns in our brains, lulling us into a more relaxed state. Many relaxation aids feature water sounds – for example, waves breaking on a beach – as they are thought to help us de-stress.’ It also means the beach is a perfect place to meditate. ‘It allows you to connect with nature while also providing the perfect soundtrack to focus on – the sound of the waves,’ says Dr Cracknell. Find a quiet spot on the beach and give it a try! TIP: Can’t sleep? Inv in an ocean sounds CD to help send you off to the land of nod.
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