Why We Love Long Walks On The Beach (According To Science)

Di Westaway OAM | Chief Adventure Chick at Wild Women On Top

It’s not just young lovers who crave long walks along the beach. It turns out, they’re bloody good for the lot of us. 

I grew up in Canberra where the closest thing to water was the backyard sprinkler. The beach was reserved for rare summer vacations and weekends occasionally included a swim in the Cotter River or a picnic on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. 

I didn’t fully experience the pure joy of the ocean until I discovered hiking nearly thirty years later. And even then, it took me a long time to understand exactly what was filling me with such happiness. 

I remember the day I first felt it. I was stuck at home with a teething baby and a tetchy toddler. I was weepy and worn-out when an interstate work colleague dropped in to say, 'hi'. I burst into tears before the kettle had boiled. 

“You need to take yourself for a walk along the beach,” she said. “I’ll mind the kids. Off you go.”

I gave her my baby, hopped in the car and drove to Manly Beach at twilight. I strolled along the shore-line as the sea breeze cleansed my senses. It soon washed my worries away. The vastness of the ocean calmed my nerves and soothed my stress. I felt rejuvenated and ready to face my family.

Have you ever wondered why we feel so fabulous after a walk along the beach or a quick plunge in a lake or mountain stream?

Water therapy dates back to the ancient Greeks and was popular with some doctors in mid-18th century England. Flannel clad ladies experiencing anxiety, melancholy, heat stroke, and many other ailments were dunked in the freezing sea until the icy water caused terror and panic. The terrified patient was then revived with vigorous back rubs, feet warmers and a hot cuppa tea. 

A spike in adrenaline from the shock was thought to sooth, calm and restore balance to the mind, body and spirit.  

These days, the mental health benefits of the ocean and water, otherwise known as 'blue care', is the topic of considerable research. It is less often prescribed by doctors, but those of us who experience it, and many alternate practitioners, have no doubt as to its powers.  

A recent meta-study, which is the first systematic review of the literature on 'blue care', found that water can have direct benefits for health, especially mental health.

The study examined programs designed specifically as water therapy, rather than recreational activities such as Coastrek (which provide a similar experience outside a traditional therapeutic setting). The study showed a strong link between water connection and psycho-social wellbeing including an increase in social connectedness.

It has also been claimed over many years that negative ions, which are more plentiful by the seaside, have been linked to improvements in mental health. Our modern world is believed to be saturated in positive ions and air pollution which is bad for our health. A 2018 literature review of 100 years of studies found evidence that negative ions can help regulate sleep patterns and mood, reduce stress and support immune function.

So, it's no accident that we humans are so drawn to the beach and will spend millions of dollars to purchase a sliver of blue view. If you live near water, ditch the guilt and get out there when every you can. It's great therapy and great fun. And if you don’t live near the beach, or a large body of water such as a lake or river, look for ways of getting there whenever you can. 

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