Nothing beats a summer trip to an oceanside retreat. Lounging on the sand, swimming in the sea, riding the surf, and playing water sports can be good for the mind and body. Saltwater has been thought throughout history to cure many ailments, from leprosy to depression. But with modern medicine, what health benefits can we actually get from seawater?
The ocean: from a place to be feared to a place to relax
Throughout the beginnings of human history, the sea was something to be feared. Shipwrecks were common, people were swept out to sea in massive waves or strong currents. The ocean brought pirates and colonizers to the shores of many countries. Slowly, over time, the ocean became a place of retreat.
Beach vacations may have originated in England in the late 18th century and then spread in popularity around the world. It was during the Industrial Revolution that the upper classes became more interested in their own health and hygiene. Doctors of the time believed that swimming in cold sea waves could cure conditions like leprosy, gout, impotence, heat stroke, and “melancholy” which was thought to come from an excess of black bile in the body that made people depressed.
Beach trips became more popular with the rise of trains and roads, and the interest in escaping city life with its mass of people and polluted air. In 1911, there were more than one hundred seaside resorts in England and Wales. Seaside resorts began springing up around Europe, eventually coming to North and South America.
Take a swim and feel a bit lighter
People have now been swimming in the ocean for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. While now it’s not commonly believed that sea bathing will cure leprosy, there may still be health benefits to being in the ocean.
The most consistently confirmed research findings tout the benefits of being in or by the ocean for our mental health. Floating, or swimming, weightless in the water, can calm the mind. It physically and mentally takes you out of your daily life and increases your sense of mindfulness. Even sitting on the shore and watching the waves flow in and out can be meditative.
Researchers have found that exercising in natural environments, like swimming in the sea, produces greater mental health benefits than physical activity elsewhere. Swimming, in particular, changes our breathing patterns as we hold our breath and then take breaths at key moments. Salty water can also be helpful for easing muscle pain. People who have swum lengths or long distances before will also know that swimming gives you a good appetite and a great night’s sleep.
Can seawater cure any ailments?
Ocean water is jam packed full of important minerals, including sodium, sulphate, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These minerals, and the cold water they’re in, can benefit skin conditions and disorders.
People have been swimming in the Dead Sea for centuries to calm their psoriasis or other skin issues. Swimming in ocean water can help remove dead skin from the body, which improves the look of psoriasis. But saltwater can also dry out the skin, as can heat and sweat. It’s important to stay cool and rinse off and moisturize your skin after swimming.
Magnesium-rich salt water can improve the skin barrier. Seawater may also be helpful for people with eczema, though some can find it uncomfortable on the skin.
People with sinus congestion, suffering from conditions like sinusitis and hay fever, may find relief from swimming in the ocean. It’s similar to how salty water can be used to flush out your nasal cavity and sinuses when you’re sick. When saline hits the lining of the sinuses, inflammation is reduced, and the cilia can move mucus out of the system.
The ocean may also have antiseptic properties and help with minor wounds and scratches. But seawater is not sterile. Open wounds can be infected by bacteria in the ocean, so using it for this reason is not recommended.
Ocean benefits can be brought into our daily lives
There are definitely benefits to being in and near the ocean, but these are mostly for general mental and physical health. And being near any type of water, from a Great Lake to a tiny stream, can be restorative and meditative. Walking or running around a pond or swimming in a lake can bring many of the same benefits as the ocean.
There are now more sterile ways to incorporate saline into your life for health uses, such as with saline nasal washes or just a mix of clean water and salt to help things like canker sores. Epsom salt baths can be great for soothing the skin and muscles.
Float tanks are now in many major cities, for those not close to the ocean or a body of water. These have you laying in complete darkness and silence, floating in salt water, and have been reported to have many of the same benefits.
Take care of yourself!
The ocean can be wild and dangerous in many areas. Always take care when swimming in the sea — know your limits, follow warnings and bans, and retreat if the waves look too rough. Don’t go out alone and ensure you swim parallel to the shore, not too far out. Hypothermia is a risk in the sea and when getting out. Wear a wetsuit in cold water and ensure that you change quickly and get warm after swimming.
Exposing your skin to the sun for an extended period of time can be dangerous. Not only does skin damage happen, increasing signs of aging, but skin cancer is a real concern. Always wear a high level of SPF when in the sun and reapply every two hours or after getting in the water.
Do you love swimming in the ocean or being at the beach? What physical or mental health benefits do you get from it? We’d love to hear from you. Please submit any questions, comments, or suggestions below.
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