The health benefits of swimming in the sea are astounding for the body, mind, and soul

You can count improved circulation, a better mood, and even an increased life expectancy among the benefits of swimming in the sea

woman swimming in the sea
(Image credit: Anna Deacon Photography)

The roar of crashing waves, the fresh ocean air, and the humbling sight of an endless blue horizon—there’s no denying the restorative effects of the ocean. But the benefits of swimming in the sea expand far beyond experiencing nature at its most awe-inspiring. We asked experts exactly why saltwater swimming is so good for us. And it turns out, a daily dip could be pretty life-changing in terms of our overall health.

The sea is steeped in healing history with its extensive saltwater benefits. Victorian doctors prescribed seaside trips to partake in wild swimming, while the ancient Greeks soaked in the mineral-rich water. "Blue space therapy is a woefully underused method of lifestyle prescription for our physical and mental health. Still, the research proves that taking a dip can boost our wellbeing ten-fold," Dr Ruth Micallef, an award-winning counselor, and mental health expert, told us. "Wild swimming has a host of research-proven benefits, including improved self-esteem, social confidence, and resilience—to name just a few." The benefits of cold-water swimming—whether that's in a lake, lido, or the sea—also include better sleep and a mood boost, with research (opens in new tab) from the British Medical Journal claiming it can even ease symptoms such as depression and anxiety. 

Benefits of swimming in the sea for your health 

seascape from a low perspective

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ocean air lifts our mood

If you live in a city, you’ll know the difference ocean air can make. “Sea air is charged with negative ions, which increases our happy hormone, serotonin,” says Kevin Benitez Garcia of Gran Canaria Wellness, where seawater is key in their thalassotherapy beauty treatments. There’s a reason the sea beckons us when we’re seeking respite. “The sound and vision of the ocean lift our mood,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Arghya Sarkhel. “The touch of sand and the smell of a seaside breeze leads to relaxation. On a biological level, this audio-visual stimulus incites our parasympathetic nervous system—that activates ‘rest and digest’, as opposed to ‘fight or flight’,” he says.

Getting into water creates this meditative state, triggered by a change in breathing patterns and slower heart rate. “When I’m swimming, there’s no noise except for the crashing waves and my breath,” says Michelle Moroney, founder of Cliffs of Moher Retreat, who swims daily in the Atlantic Ocean. “There is no stress, no worries—it’s a spiritual experience.” 

Ocean views can improve focus

And there is something to be said for just glimpsing the waves. Researchers from the University of Michigan (opens in new tab) found that places of nature captivate us due to their high “fascination value”, which powers our clarity and focus. One study found that employees with a view of nature were happier, in better health, and enjoyed their job more. It's a concept we've seen in action with other nature therapies, like forest bathing.

Increased magnesium improves sleep

waves on a tropical beach

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A study from the National Trust found that coastal walkers had an improved quality of sleep and slept for 47 minutes more than inland walkers, thanks to the rhythmic lull of the waves and higher intake of magnesium from the sea air.

"Magnesium is an essential nutrient for our wellbeing," Philip Tanswell of Cornish Sea Salt Co, told us. "The benefits of magnesium include that it helps to regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and can even impact our sleep—yet it’s one of the most common mineral deficiencies in adults. Potassium is necessary for the function of our cells and can even help to regulate our heartbeat."

Saltwater is good for the skin

Ever heard anecdotes about people’s skin conditions improving during their holidays? It’s thought that the sea’s elixir of minerals is responsible. “It’s no coincidence that the ocean is one of the best sources for these nutrients—as humans, we evolved from the sea and our mineral profiles match,” says Tanswell. “Seawater is rich in minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, and potassium, which each alone have fantastic benefits,” says Benitez Garcia. These minerals are anti-inflammatory, helping to heal and protect the skin barrier.

“Soaking in seawater is nature’s skin treatment—it’s great for sensitive skin or eczema-prone skin,” says Benitez Garcia. In fact, a study found that soaking atopic dry skin in magnesium-rich salt-reduced inflammation while improving hydration and skin barrier function. “In psoriasis, the cell turnover is high, so replenishing with minerals that the body has used up could be the reason why it helps many people,” says Dr Karen Davis, a certified physician assistant specializing in chronic skin conditions. 

Coastal life encourages a more active lifestyle

“The coastal lifestyle encourages us to engage in regular exercise, whether it’s gently strolling along the seaside or jogging along the beach,” says Dr Sarkhel. “Exercise is already proven to increase neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, which are deficient in depression. Therefore, it may not come as a surprise that people living closer to the sea have healthier lifestyles.” 

Meg Pugh and Laura Sanderson, co-founders of Wild Swim Snowdonia, can vouch for the benefits of living by the seaside. “Sea swimming goes hand in hand with being active, as it normally involves a walk or cycle to the beach—so the fresh air, movement, and a swim are the perfect remedies,” explains Pugh. 

"Being able to go for a long swim or a quick dip is so energizing that it makes you want to look after yourself, and kick-starts a sensible approach to health and wellbeing.” An hour of moderate freestyle swimming will burn around 500 calories, but if you’re swimming in cold waters, this could be even higher. 

Seawater helps our bodies to function

Vital elements are also found in seawater. “Oceanic compounds, notably magnesium, regulate the nervous systems to perform many functions,” says Tanswell. 

We typically don’t get enough from diet alone and stress depletes levels. However, we absorb more by the seaside by, “breathing in the sea air, eating fresh seafood and bathing in the sea,” he says. Salt also has physical benefits, from oxygenating our blood to regulating blood sugar levels.

woman&home thanks Kevin Benitez Garcia of Gran Canaria Wellness (opens in new tab), Philip Tanswell of Cornish Sea Salt Co (opens in new tab), Meg Pugh and Laura Sanderson, co-founders of Wild Swim Snowdonia (opens in new tab), Dr Ruth Micallef (opens in new tab), an award-winning counselor, and mental health expert, Michelle Moroney, founder of Cliffs of Moher Retreat (opens in new tab).

Lauren is the former Deputy Digital Editor at woman&home and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren worked on the woman&home brand for four years before going freelance. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine.