Miracle Beach

An ocean prescription offers a timelessly appealing and effective mind-body remedy.
Photo by Christopher Clarke

By Tapp Francke

When you’re lucky enough to live by the ocean, you’re lucky enough. An ocean beach is not only beautiful and peaceful, but it can be good for your health, too. Hawaii, a place of year-round beaches and gorgeous weather has, since 2006, been named the best place to live by Gallup polls six times. Researchers in Japan found that people who live closest to the ocean are the happiest and least stressed. An ocean view yields even better results.

Why does the ocean have this effect? Thalassotherapy, a word originally coined by Hippocrates, refers to the sea as a form of mind-body therapy. Wallace J. Nichols, in Blue Mind, his 2014 book about the enduring appeal of water to humans, writes that the sounds of ocean waves are relaxing to the brain. This happens because the sound of the crashing waters alters brain wave patterns to a more meditative state. As the waves roll onto the shore in their rhythmic pattern, they induce a deep sense of calm. The blue of the ocean has an effect as well, blue being a color known to promote feelings of peace and serenity. Blue has the ability to lower blood pressure while increasing creativity and productiveness. Researchers from the University of Plymouth in the UK studying virtual reality in stressful situations found that this ocean effect is so profound that people having dental surgery who are shown images of the beach report feeling less pain.

This effect is not just in your head: The beach has physiological benefits as well. The ocean air has a higher concentration of negatively charged ions, which help the body absorb oxygen more efficiently. Oxygen supports all physical functions, providing essential support to the organs, including the brain. This means that ionized ocean air can help with mental clarity and a stronger body. The negatively charged ions also balance serotonin and dopamine, our “feel-good” neurotransmitters that regulate mood, digestion, sleep and memory. So, take a deep breath when you are by the sea. You will be doing your body a world of good.

Ocean water is one of the great healers. It is antimicrobial and packed with minerals—including sodium, chloride, sulfate, calcium and magnesium—essential for proper immune system function. Magnesium, in particular, is known to help relax muscles, induce deeper sleep and help to hydrate the skin by improving moisture retention. Ocean water, or any mineral-rich water, has long been used as atonic for immune-mediated skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, in a treatment known as balneotherapy. Swimming in the ocean is an excellent form of exercise that increases circulation and improves muscle tone. Immersing your body in cold saltwater decreases pain and increases immune system function. When the temperature receptors in your skin are exposed to the cold water, they release endorphins, activating opiate receptors, which, in turn, have an analgesic effect. Endorphins also regulate the immune system by strengthening white blood cells, which help protect from infections and disease.

Get your dose of the sea. Your body will thank you.