From mood-boosting sunshine to stress-relieving sea, here’s why you should prescribe yourself a beach break
Whether it’s the moody swirls of Cornwall or the calm balm of the Caribbean, there’s something delightfully soothing about being by the ocean. Long before the word “bikini” entered our lexicon, physicians were prescribing a seaside break as a cure for malaise and stress. And – although beach breaks have since morphed into something more fun (cheers, Baywatch) – we still need that healing element.
Thankfully for all you beach rabbits out there, this is a rite that is brimming with health perks. Even eating ice-cream is good for the mind, while sunshine, sea and daytime napping are all rich with wellness benefits. So, grab that sunhat and hit the sands – here’s why your body will thank you for it…
Sunshine strengthens the immune system
Sunshine is one of our main sources of vitamin D, which plays a vital role in arming the body’s immune system. Researchers have discovered that blue light found in the sun’s rays energizes infection-fighting T cells, speeding up our response to diseases. In other words, lounging on a deckchair all day isn’t lazy; it’s a proactive healthcare strategy – just don’t forget the factor 50.
… and it’s an instant mood-booster
Sunlight is like catnip for the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, associated feelings of deep satisfaction and calm. One Australian study found that serotonin levels in the body are significantly higher on sunny days than cloudy ones – regardless of the temperature at the time. This sunlight therapy effect explains why you feel so damn happy after a day on the beach; it’s a chemical response.
Sea swimming improves the body’s stress response
Research shows that when you immerse yourself in water of 15°C or less, it sparks your “fight or flight” stress response. Scientists believe this effect lessens with exposure, which teaches the body to respond better to all kinds of chronic stress in daily life. If you happen to be in the Philippines or somewhere similarly balmy, warm water is also beneficial. Research shows it increases blood flow to the muscles, which relieves anxiety and mental fatigue.
Seawater nourishes the skin
Balneotherapy, or water bathing, has long been used as a means of relieving skin conditions such as psoriasis. It’s thought that high levels of minerals in seawater, including sodium, magnesium and calcium, carry a unique healing effect. This can enhance the skin’s ability to maintain moisture, cleanse pores and soothe inflammation, for healthier, smoother skin. This is especially true of places like Jordan’s Dead Sea, where salty, mineral-rich waters have given rise to a dermatological healing industry.
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The sound of the waves has a meditative effect
There’s a reason why so many sleep apps use the rhythmic lull of ocean waves. Research by Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Pennsylvania State University, shows that the sound pacifies the brain’s maxed-out vigilance system. “These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people,” he tells Live Science. “It’s like they’re saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.'”
Daytime napping makes you smarter
A gentle snooze whenever you fancy it one of the unsung delights of beach days – and studies suggest that it can be as beneficial as a full night’s sleep when it comes to cognitive functioning. According to science, a quick cat nap can dramatically improve learning, memory and focus, alongside boosted creativity and enhanced mood. For optimal effect, aim for a 15-20 minute nap just after lunch.
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And so does eating ice-cream
Quaffing ice-cream might not be good for your waistline, but it’s great for sharpening your mental acuity. Research by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Tokyo’s Kyorin University, found that eating ice-cream at breakfast improves our information-processing abilities and reaction times. Why? It’s thought the perception of ice-cream as a treat may trigger higher energy levels. So, the next time you’re tempted by that raspberry ripple cone at 8am – go for it, you’ll only get smarter.
Blue space sparks feelings of calm and happiness
The colour blue has long been associated with a calming, restorative effect. Studies show just looking at it is enough to lower the heart rate, while people who live close to “blue spaces” such as the sea report reduced stress and increased levels of physical fitness. “Going on a beach walk has restorative powers that exercising inside of a gym just does not have,” California-based therapist Christine Scott-Hudson tells Psychology Today. “Looking out onto the blue water is both relaxing and healing.”
The sand makes a brilliant workout
A 2013 study found that running on sand makes your body perform 10% harder compared to grass; but you don’t have to sprint to feel the benefits. Soft, loose sand provides natural resistance to any movement you do, meaning your body will work harder just by playing a game of volleyball, or lugging your ice cooler from the car to your beach spot of choice. Sand also has less impact on your joints; meaning any activity you do will be low impact, while also being more intense over a shorter period of time. As you work to balance yourself on the dunes, your core will kick in, too.
A G&T can help you live longer
Any good beach day ends with a sundowner G&T (or hey, one at 12pm – you’re on holiday, after all). And, happily for us, gin is made from juniper berries, which are packed with essential oils and flavonoids. In turn, these perform as powerful antioxidants that fight compounds related to diabetes, heart disease and more. Combine this with the plant chemical’s anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits, and it’s little surprise flavonoids are linked with a 25% hike in longevity. A caveat, though: too much alcohol is clearly linked to a much shorter life – so key lies in finding a good balance.