Seaside health benefits

Siski Green / 18 July 2012

The closer we live to the sea, the better our health, say scientists.

It’s easy to see why a tropical beach holiday would do you good. There’s all that fresh sea air, beach walks and swimming, not to mention heart-healthy sea food. But living on Britain’s somewhat colder coastline, with or without a white sandy beach, is also good for your health..

Seaside life is good for you

Researchers from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter looked at data from the UK census of more than 48 million people to assess how a person’s geographical location might affect their health. 

The census contained information on the population’s self-reported health status – respondents were asked whether their health was good, fairly good, or not good. When the researchers correlated this information with where the respondents lived, they found that the closer a person lived to the sea, the better their health. 

Even when they took into account social and economic factors the difference remained. Interestingly, the more economically deprived a coastal area was, the more dramatic the health impact. The researchers say this shows that access to ‘good’ environments helps to reduce the disparity in health between well-off and poorer social groups.

The coast is an aid to relaxation

The researchers can’t be sure why coastal living is healthier but theorise that it provides access to an environment that encourages activity, as well as stress reduction. 

Another study by the same researchers found that people who visited the coast felt calmer and more relaxed than after they’d had a similar visit to a city park or even the countryside. Further research is needed, however, to pinpoint exactly why seaside living provides these benefits.

Stuck in the city? 

Not everyone can live by the sea and many may not want to, but there’s every reason to try and incorporate some of the benefits of coastal living into your daily routine:

Just go outside. People living near the sea are probably more likely to head out for a walk – and so get some sunlight on their skin. It’s worth doing wherever you live, because sunlight enables the body to make vitamin D, which helps you absorb calcium for stronger bones, as well as working against hypertension and a whole host of other health issues.

Get some green. The calming sound of the sea is difficult to emulate, but studies have shown that looking at greenery de-stresses you too. Find walks near you by going to Walking Britain or National Parks. Even looking at an image of a green setting helps, apparently, so put a leafy screensaver on your computer to help you stay relaxed.

Get active. Living by the water encourages outdoor exercise – a walk along the beach is a more attractive prospect than a walk down the high street – but don’t let that stop you. Hire a rowing boat on your nearest river or lake, go for a hike at your local reservoir or wildlife reserve. And if you can’t do any of that, hit the gym. All forms of exercise cause you to release endorphins, which helps boost your mood.

Skim a pebble or two. One of the special aspects of being near the water is that it inspires contemplation, but that’s something you can emulate at home. Take time every day to do something ‘just for fun’ – no agenda, no goal, no purpose. Lie on your bed and gaze at the ceiling, roll marbles across your floor, watch a bird having a wash in your birdbath – whatever it takes to let your mind drift away.

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