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.
In fact, the sea is steeped in healing history with its extensive salt water benefits. Victorian doctors prescribed seaside trips, while the ancient Greeks soaked in the mineral-rich water. A recent study also found that your proximity to the coast correlates to your health. Ready to dive in?
Here are the sea salt benefits the ocean has to offer…
Salt water keeps you fit
“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 remedy,” explains Meg. "Being able to go for a long swim or a quick dip is so energising 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. There are more and more free swim groups to join on The Outdoor Swimming Society website."
It clears your mind
There’s a reason the sea beckons us when we’re seeking respite. “The sound and vision of the ocean lifts 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.” However, if you can’t access the beach, you can still benefit from your local pool. Research from YouGov and Swim England found that swimming significantly reduced the symptoms of anxiety or depression
Sea salt benefits your wellbeing
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 spa treatments.
And there is something to be said for just glimpsing the waves. Researchers from the University of Michigan 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. And you may have noticed that a day spent at shore leads to a better night’s sleep. 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.
It boosts your health
Vital elements are also found in seawater. “Oceanic compounds, notably magnesium, regulate the nervous systems to perform many functions,” says Philip Tanswell of Cornish Sea Salt Co.
We typically don’t get enough from diet alone and stress depletes levels. However, we absorb more by the seaside – “breathing in 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. Plus your immune system will be rewarded – a Czech study found that cold water swimmers had an increase in white blood cells.
Salt water soothes skin ailments
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 Philip. “Seawater is rich in minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium, which each alone have fantastic benefits,” says Kevin. 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 or eczema-prone skin,” says Kevin. 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 Karen Davis.