Why Go to the Ocean: Wellness Benefits of the Beach

Updated: Sep 6

Wellness Benefits of Vitamin Sea

What if I told you that you could experience better sleep, reduced stress, nervous system balance, increased endorphins, and a calmer mind? Who doesn’t want more of these health benefits that directly affect one’s quality of life?

With summer upon us, people are naturally drawn to spend a day or vacation at the beach for rest and recreation.

Once you know all of the wellness benefits of spending time at the beach, you’ll likely make your next beach day, or better yet, wellness retreat at the beach, a top priority.

Besides a fun and pleasurable escape, spending time at the beach benefits our health on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels.

Physical Benefits of Beach Wellness: “Vitamin Sea”

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea. — Isak Dinesen

A trip to the ocean has long been prescribed for its health benefits. Some of the obvious benefits of spending time at the beach is soaking up the fresh air and sunshine, along with swimming in the ocean or enjoying a beach walk.

While we all know to take precautions to avoid damage to our skin with prolonged sun exposure, absorbing sunshine through the skin has many health benefits.

The “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D, gives us many physical health benefits (including, but not limited to the following).

  • Boosted immune system.

  • Healthy bones.

  • Regulated blood pressure.

  • Regulating hormone production.

  • Many people are deficient in this important vitamin which is best absorbed through the skin.

Only ten minutes in the sun at the beach can provide your daily dose of Vitamin D!

Recent studies reveal that women in particular receive physical health benefits from sun-bathing. Women who spend more time in the sun live longer and have lower risk of breast cancer.

Our bodies soak up health benefits from the ocean water.

Our skin absorbs trace minerals.

  • This includes magnesium. Magnesium is important mineral for our muscles, bones, energy levels, digestion and sleep, which also contributes to lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation.

  • We take in iodine through salt water. Iodine boosts immunity and prevents infection.

The ocean’s salt water detoxifies the skin.

As teenagers growing up near the beach, my brother and I would give ourselves “facials,” splashing the ocean’s water on our faces to reduce acne. We both noticed a difference in our teenage complexions when we moved away from the beach in high school.

People breathe easier at the beach.

This happens both because people are more relaxed and because of the air quality. Besides being more free of pollen and other pollutants, the air near the ocean is filled with negative ions, increasing oxygen intake. Fuller breaths and increased oxygen create deep relaxation, reduce anxiety, and induce a better night’s sleep.

Swimming in waves is great exercise.

Swimming in waves uses all our major muscle groups and provides a great cardio workout!

Beach walks are an enjoyable and challenging form of exercise.

The soft sand creates resistance, giving a good strengthening workout for the feet, legs and heart, and increasing the effort to balance. (Did you know that balance is also correlated with life expectancy?)

Walking or running in sand requires about twice the energy than walking or running on a sidewalk.

Walking barefoot on the sand provides a method of grounding or earthing.

Walking barefoot on the beach gives another great benefit, especially for city dwellers who live in shoes. Grounding or “earthing” keeps us connected to the earth and has proven physiological benefits such as boosting immunity, reducing inflammation and stress hormones, improving blood pressure, and balancing circadian rhythms to promote better sleep. While our lungs absorb ions and oxygen from the fresh sea air, our bare feet absorb electrons from the earth, making us feel grounded.

If you’re not lucky enough to live near the beach and reap these benefits every day, an occasional visit to the beach is worthwhile. The physical benefits can be felt for days after just one visit.

Emotional: Wellness Benefits of Beach Therapy

The sea, to be happy, like hearts, must be stirred. –Will Advise Do you like the sound of increased serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, as much as the sound of the waves? Then head to the beach!

Besides all the physical benefits, spending time in the sun also promotes emotional health. Our bodies respond to sunshine by producing a flood of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters.

Sunlight triggers the release of chemicals in our endocrine system. Some of these are dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, which transmit love, excitement, happiness and a general positive mood. These regulate our physical, emotional and mental states.

Time at the beach relieves stress and helps people feel carefree, uplifted, and engaged in the present moment. Besides taking time away from work, home, or other demands, the beach itself has a number of qualities that help reduce stress.

The sound of the ocean waves relaxes and soothes one’s emotions and promotes a meditative state.

We all know that the sounds of crashing waves washes away the cares of the world. The vast ocean and endless horizon helps one’s problems fade into the background.

Ocean Sounds Cultivate Relaxation

The sounds of the sea–the regular “swoosh” of the ocean waves, occasional cry of seabirds, the breeze–engage the parasympathetic nervous system, our “relaxation response,” which is the baseline for emotional (and physical) health.

The Color Blue is Calming Along with the rhythmic sound of the waves, the color blue–the deep blue ocean and cerulean blue of the sky induces a state of calm. The fresh air of the beach alleviates symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Being around other people relaxing and having fun also lifts one’s spirits and promotes positivity.

Walking on the Sand is Uplifting

  • Long beach walks or relaxing and relieve stress, playing in the sand or ocean waves uplifts the spirits.

  • Time at the beach is known to alleviate stress, reduce anxiety or depression, and dissipate emotions such as anger and sadness.

Ernest Hemingway wrote how present-moment awareness fostered by the beach can help mend a broken heart: “In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.”

Mental: The Blue Mind Effect

Be alone with the sea, for it is there you will find answers to questions you didn’t realize exist. –Khang Kijarro Nguyen

How the Ocean Affects Our Neurochemistry

  • While people’s bodies and hearts receive benefits from being at the sea, mental experience also improves.

  • The same neurotransmitters that calm and elevate moods also affect brain function and cognitive performance.

  • Being at the beach can have an immediate and lasting effect on mental health, promoting peace of mind, mental clarity, problem solving, insight, introspection, and creativity. Sign me up!

In fact, research scientist and marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols wrote the book, “Blue Mind, How Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.” His research confirms the positive and lasting mental health benefits of spending time near water. “It’s the antidote to what we refer to as ‘red mind,’ which is the anxious, over-connected, and over-stimulated state that defines the new normal of modern life. Spending time near the water is essential to achieving elevated and sustained happiness.”

The Benefits of Mental R & R

  • Just as our bodies need rest, our brains need rest from constant stimulation, and the beach provides the ideal setting for this “Mental R&R.”

  • Our brains are constantly bombarded by the environment, processing everything taken in by the senses on a continual basis, along with all of the information we take in every day.

  • In the digital information age, human brains are more taxed than ever before.

The brain needs time to rest and recover, and the beach is the perfect setting for this.

At the beach, there is less for us to process and soothing elements such as the broad horizon, expansive sky, and natural sounds and sensory stimuli which are easier for our brains to process. Nichols explains, “When you stand at the edge of water and look out on the horizon, it’s visually simplified relative to the room you’re sitting in right now, or a city you’re walking through, where you’re taking in millions of pieces of information every second.”

Along with a regulated nervous system, a lower heart rate and deeper breathing, our brainwaves respond to the sound of the ocean waves by slowing down, much like when we meditate, focus on our breath, or practice yoga. The calmer brainwaves and parasympathetic nervous system response–when our minds do not have to be on constant alert–helps boost concentration, focus, present-moment awareness, and mental clarity.

The Ocean Provides a Mindfulness Practice

As Zen teacher Michael Wenger points out, listening to the ocean waves is a powerful form of mindfulness practice.

“Just listening to the sound – not tying it to anything, just letting the sound wash over you – is a way of letting go of your ideas and directly experiencing things as they are.”

Meditation Practice on the Ocean: So Hum

In fact, my favorite meditation practice, one I teach on my retreats, is to link my own breath to the sound of the ocean waves along with the simple mantra, “So Hum.” Even when I am far away from the beach, I’ve “imprinted” this practice into my system so that my mind and nervous system can return to the relaxed and open state that I cultivated while meditating on retreat at the beach.

Mental Relaxation with the Sea Air

Helen Keller wrote about the mental benefit of breathing the sea air.

“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.”

Helen Keller most likely didn’t know that the increased oxygen and negative ions present in the ocean air provided benefits to her brain, but she clearly experienced the positive effect on her mind.

Mental Relaxation = Mental Clarity

When our brains can relax, we experience greater mental clarity. While relaxing at the beach, you might find sudden clarity regarding a problem that has been consuming your mind, or just the right idea to move forward with in life. Observing the expansive horizon and vast ocean helps give your mind a break from ruminating thoughts and worries, giving greater perspective and peace of mind. A friend recently shared a humorous meme with me.

“You might not find the answer to all of life’s questions at the beach, but it’s worth a try!”

Finding Your Flow State at the Beach

Time at the beach induces creativity and “flow state,” a state of being that is treasured by humans. When we experience the “blue mind” our minds rest and wander freely, switching into what is known as the “default mode.”

Default mode includes daydreaming, imagination, memory consolidation, introspection and insight.

This mode leads to creative thought and often to those moments of sudden inspiration. These are the “Eureka” or “aha!” moments that feel like gifts that suddenly “drop out of the sky and into your head,” as Nichols says. He explains in Blue Mind.

“There are all these cognitive and emotional benefits that we derive every time we spend time by water. Once you get into it, you realize that it’s chemistry, it’s biology, it’s physiology. It’s deeply personal but it’s also strong science.”

The next time you need a break from decision fatigue or need clarity on an important aspect of your life, try a day at the beach, or better yet, a beach retreat.

One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach waiting for a gift from the sea. –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Spiritual Wellness Benefits of the Beach: A Sense of Wonder

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. –Jacques Yves Cousteau

The simple act of sifting a handful of sand through your fingers and contemplating the countless grains of sand at the beach, or observing the seemingly infinite expanse of the ocean, induces a sense of awe and wonder. It seems impossible to avoid contemplating a spiritual essence to nature when observing the powerful ocean waves and the beauty of the sky and water.

Connecting to Awe at the Beach

The feelings of awe and wonder gives us a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves and a chance to contemplate our place in the cosmos. When we experience awe, we feel viscerally that we are “one with the universe” and connected to the world and people around us.

We gain a greater sense of self and our true essence.

In the words of poet e.e. Cummings, Whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always ourself we find in the sea.”
  • The beach naturally cultivates a sense of humanity while people enjoy the spectacular nature of this shared natural resource.

  • We feel more compassionate and connected to others, and cultivate an increased sense of empathy, while observing people of all ages and all walks of life enjoying the simple act of experiencing pleasure, play, and peace at the beach.

  • The sensory experience of the elements at the beach also conveys a sense of oneness with nature.

  • We remember we are also natural beings, made up of almost the same percentage of water as our planet.

As oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle wrote, “Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.”

Our Spiritual Relationship with Nature

This visceral awareness of our direct relationship with nature provides a sense of deep reassurance during a time of anxiety about the fate of the planet. While the beach is constantly changing with shifting sands, cloud parades, breezes and weather, its basic nature remains the same. Our minds, hearts, and nervous systems are reassured by the consistent nature of the beach and ocean. While we may be concerned and disturbed by pollution of our precious beaches and oceans, the steadiness and grandeur of the environment can offer hope and reassurance.

The Power of the In-Between Spaces

The beach is a space of both continuity and transition and its shoreline represents a “liminal” or in–between space, with deep and broad spiritual implications. The liminal space represents the threshold between the known and unknown, past and present, what has been and what is to come. In Celtic and other spiritual traditions, thresholds (in space or time) represent sacred places where we have greater opportunities for connection with the divine, spiritual wisdom of mystics and ancestors.

In Mayan traditions, the Caribbean Sea is the point of new beginnings and rebirth.

My favorite time of day at the beach, especially in the Riviera Maya, is watching the sun rise over the sparkling turquoise sea or watching the sun set over the emerald green jungle. These times, on a daily basis, are opportune moments to connect to spiritual guidance, set intentions, or reflect on the day.

Author Joan Anderson, has written multiple best-selling books about the transformation and spiritual lessons gained by time at the beach. She writes, “The beach to me is a sacred zone between the earth and the sea, one of those in-between between places where transitions can be experienced – where endings can be mourned and beginnings birthed.”