Updated: Mar 24
If you have ever taken a vacation to the beach, you can probably attest that, aside from its abundant natural resources, the sea also has a positive effect on one’s mind. Staring at the blue sea melts our problems away as the wave crushes to the shore. Walking on the soft sand, soaking up in the sunshine, and playing in the water overcomes us with a sense of relaxation. This feeling isn’t just imagined, it’s backed by research. In this article, you will learn what the science says about the benefits of spending time by the sea and mental health and what activities you can do to reap the benefits.
A survey conducted in England shows that people residing by the sea reported better mental health status. Other research suggests that coastal exposure increases the opportunity for physical activity and mental recovery (White et al., 2020). This phenomenon has a name, it’s called the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) coined by psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan. ART suggests that mental fatigue can be reduced by looking at nature, including the sea. It’s no wonder then that fifty percent of international tourists travel to coastal areas for their vacations.
Psychologists refer to the sea and other coastal areas as “blue space”. Blue space refers to outdoor natural environments that feature water and are accessible to humans and have a potential for health and well-being (Britton et al., 2020). As urban coastal populations continue to grow, researchers all over the world have begun investigating the potential use of blue spaces for therapeutic purposes and urban planning (Grellier, et al., 2017). In Wellington, New Zealand, researchers have examined how residential exposure to blue space, including the sea, contributes to lower psychological distress (Nutsford, 2016). Other researchers have studied the potential of surf therapy to reduce anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms (Walter, 2019).
Time spent in blue spaces can help improve one’s mood and reduce stress. This is because it triggers the production of serotonin and endorphins in the brain which are responsible for making you feel good. The ocean view also lowers our brain frequency, putting us in a relaxing Alpha state. This explains why so much research has been done to investigate how activities such as walking along beaches, surfing, kayaking, and sailing can treat mental health issues (Vert et al., 2020; Britton et al., 2020).
Is cooling off part of the reason you are traveling coasts? Well, aside from psychological benefits, blue spaces also have environmental impacts. They can absorb urban heat which gives a cooling effect to the area by the water environment, making them a natural temperature regulator (Gunawardena et al., 2017). Particularly around the coasts, the crashing waves also release negative ions into the air that can trap pollutants. This in turn will increase the level of oxygen that we take in, explaining why breathing the sea air is refreshing.
Blue space existence is essential for well-being, not only for those residing near the environment but for everybody. As the research shows, a trip to coastal areas might be a good idea to replenish your energy, improve your mood, and cool off on hot days. Remember to make sure your trip is a sustainable and carbon-conscious one!
Writer: Kemas Saddam
Editor: Stevenson Ramsey
Britton, E., Kindermann, G., Domegan, C., & Carlin, C. (2020). Blue care: A systematic review of blue space interventions for health and wellbeing. Health Promotion International, 35(1), 50–69. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/day103
Garrett, J. K., Clitherow, T. J., White, M. P., Wheeler, B. W., & Fleming, L. E. (2019). Coastal proximity and mental health among urban adults in England: The moderating effect of household income. Health & Place, 59, 102200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.102200
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Walter, K. H., Otis, N. P., Ray, T. N., Glassman, L. H., Michalewicz-Kragh, B., Powell, A. L., & Thomsen, C. J. (2019). Breaking the surface: Psychological outcomes among U.S. active duty service members following a surf therapy program. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 45, 101551. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.101551
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