The Power of Vitamin Sea: Why the coast makes you happier and healthier
Our connection to the coast is undeniable. ‘Life’s a beach,’ ‘I do like to be beside the seaside,’ and even the stereotype of chilled, relaxed surfers has long crafted the belief that life near the sea is somehow healthier and happier, but is there any truth behind it?
There’s no better feeling than when you’re on the way to the coast and the sea finally comes into view. The first glimpse of the shimmering water, the first breath of fresh sea air, and the feeling of stepping onto the sand are incomparable and something special to all of us.
Here in Pembrokeshire, we don’t doubt living near the sea improves our lives, but the positive effects, both directly and indirectly, go even further than that and may have an impact on your mental and physical health. A 2013 study by Environmental Psychologist Dr Lewis Elliott and his team at the University of Exeter discovered people living closer to the coast had a better rate of health, well-being, and happiness. The study, which looked at the census data of 48 million adults, found "people who visit the coast, at least twice weekly tend to experience better general and mental health".
Dr Mathew White, also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and an Environmental Psychologist with BlueHealth, has broken down the reasoning into three main areas: environmental factors, an increase in physical activity, and thirdly that water has a psychologically restorative effect.
The last reason is why aquatic environments are believed to have a slight edge over other natural environments, such as woodlands. But what about the proximity to the coast or water that is so good for us? Let's take a look!
A breath of fresh sea air
The Victorians used to prescribe “sea air” as a cure for major diseases like tuberculosis. While medically, we’ve moved on, they were partly right in their thinking, as the air around water is supercharged with healthy negative ions. You've probably never heard about healthy negative ions, but when you breathe these negative ions in, they have such a healthy impact on your body, helping with everything from stress to energy levels. Not only do they accelerate your ability to absorb oxygen, but they also naturally increase your levels of serotonin, the key hormone that stabilises your mood, feelings of wellbeing, and happiness. They also clear the air of airborne allergens such as pollen, mould spores, bacteria, and viruses. That is why a deep breath while walking along the beach can feel so good and make you instantly feel better.
It doesn't end there either, negative ions are believed to revitalise cell metabolism, enhance immune function, purify your blood, and balance the autonomic system that helps promote deep sleep and healthy digestion, which explains why we find a trip to the sea so refreshing and invigorating! These negative ions occur naturally in nature, but certain environments, particularly around moving water, have an abundance.
Positive V. Negative ions
When there is a negative, there's always a positive to balance things out, and these would be positive ions, known as free radicals. The positive ions aren't so friendly as their negative counterpart, though, as they “steal” electrons from healthy cells to neutralise their charge and, when exposed to too much, can cause depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
The positive ions also occur naturally, but our lifestyle is creating more, causing an imbalance in the air around us and our bodies. Positive ions are generated by things we all use in our everyday lives, like electronic devices, including televisions, mobile phones, and computers, and things we're exposed to, like fluorescent lighting, indoor spaces, and air pollution. They're especially common in crowded cities and urban areas, and it's easy for people to be exposed to too much, which can impair brain function and suppress the immune system causing symptoms such as anxiety, breathing difficulty, fatigue, headaches, irritability, lack of energy, poor concentration, and nausea.
Helping restore the balance
The good news is negative ions can help restore the impact of the unhealthy positive ions, and the easiest way to get your big fix is to immerse yourself in natural environments where they are produced. Forests, the beach, and waterfalls are packed with them, especially after a storm or rainfall - another reason why getting out in the rain is so good for you! Moving bodies of water are especially abundant, which is why a stroll along the beach is so important to your mental and physical health, as it helps repair and revives you!
The levels of positive ions aren't the only damaging thing you could be breathing in when you're in built-up areas. We've long known that air pollution can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening medical issues, but even if you don't experience direct problems with the air quality, pollution has been linked to stress levels, blood pressure, and even heart rate. Getting to the coast, breathing fresh, unpolluted air will help to repair that damage and naturally give you a boost.
It's not just about the proximity to the sea; it's also about your reaction and behaviour when you're there. The coast is associated with rest, relaxation, and getting active, all things that have a positive impact on our lives that many of us don't get enough of.
According to Dr Elliott's study, we're far more likely to exercise and exercise for longer when we're near the coast. Whether it's surfing, running, fishing, or just walking along the shore, there are more opportunities to be physically active, and the study found that, in general, people who live near the coast are much more likely to exercise regularly. Water-based activities, like surfing and kayaking, are also believed to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as dementia and cardiovascular disease.
We all know exercise is good for us physically, but Dr Elliott also pointed to the mental health benefits it brings, "and when combined with being in a natural, coastal environment, these effects become even stronger".
Quality time together
Many of these activities you won't be doing alone either, and that brings in another positive aspect about the coast - the social side it offers. Many people specifically go there to spend quality time with each other and enjoy themselves, and it becomes associated with positive experiences and a sociable atmosphere. It's also accessible to all ages and abilities, so whether it's time with your grandparents or your friends, it's something everyone can enjoy. Spending time together, in a healthy environment, doing something that's physically beneficial - it's not a surprise the beach is so good for us!
With all the health positives of getting away to a natural environment, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the coast can offer significant benefits for your mental well-being too. One of the simplest examples comes from sitting on the shore and listening to the waves. It's been claimed that combining rhythmic crashing waves and proximity to the natural world helps us achieve a meditative state, which can help reduce stress, and increase relaxation and happiness.
A good night's sleep
There's long been an assumption that "sea air" makes you sleep better, and while that's not directly been proven if you are suffering from insomnia or just in need of a good night's sleep, a trip to the beach could help relieve it. That's because a trip to the beach is believed to help relieve three key factors associated with preventing a good night's sleep: stress and anxiety, lack of physical fatigue, and hormonal imbalance.
We've already covered the benefits negative ions can have on stress levels, your hormones, and the fact people are more active by the coast, so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that they help you sleep better, but there's also exposure to sunlight you get when outdoors. Being outside in the sun for as little as ten minutes can allow you to absorb your daily dose of Vitamin D directly through your skin and can also help combat anxiety and stress and regulate your hormones. That means even a short walk on the beach offers huge benefits to your well-being and should make it easier to drop off later.
You can enjoy all the benefits of life at the coast during a stay with us, where we are just a 20-minute drive from beautiful golden beaches. Or, pick the adventure route and try one of our WYLD Activities. That's not the only way you can enjoy the benefits proximity to water brings you; we have several ways to incorporate it into your holiday. Our Well Spa Retreat takes inspiration from the coast, incorporating elements into our treatments. There are also several aquatic environments you can explore within the resort, including our private lake and streams and brooks running through our woodland. There's also the beautiful Daugleddau Estuary, which is just beyond our resort boundary.