Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside! For those cones of salty chips drowned in vinegar, the dripping yet delicious ice-cream and, of course, the feeling of sand between your toes. However, there are more benefits to being by the sea than just a good lick of tan. Studies suggest that those living closer to the sea and open water spaces experience greater levels of positive mental health.
Coastal areas have always drawn humans, whether this is for residency or short stays. Some people dream of living by the seaside, away from the hustle and the bustle of cities and towns. There is less going on by the sea, but the stillness is what people crave. Squawking seagulls replace the sound of beeping car horns. The view provides a similarly broad scope of sea and shore, maybe with a lighthouse poking beyond, if you’re lucky. It is no surprise people feel their mood naturally enhanced when by the sea. It is an uncluttered landscape.
When I was younger, I never understood the appeal of the seaside. Growing up, I felt so trapped in my English seaside town. Unlike its depictions on postcards, the town was ghostly and grey with nothing for a young person to do. When I got older and started looking for greater opportunities to seize, they didn’t exist. Finding sand everywhere never appealed to me, nor did the sea, which was far from blue. Yet little did I know, being in my coastal town would be the thing to keep me going throughout lockdown.
When we were only allowed outside once a day for exercise, I thought I had to spend it wisely. Luckily for me, the beach is a five-minute walk from my front door. This proximity to the sea and looking out into its oblivion is comforting. The crashes of the waves, lapping onto the shore, and the crumble of the stones, beneath my feet, were enough to forget the worries of the world. Amidst the pandemonium of the pandemic; lockdowns, fluctuating case numbers and the absence of the old life, we once knew, being by the sea is the perfect escape from this mayhem. (And, I don’t even take my headphones).
Many studies have found that people who live by the sea are less likely to experience forms of anxiety and depression. This concept has become known as the ‘Blue Gym’, referring to revitalised and refreshed feelings we commonly feel when besides the sea. From sea air fuelling your ability to absorb oxygen due to its charge of negative ions to the vitamin D absorbed from the sun (even when it’s winter). You don’t have to do anything to feel this benefit, other than just being there! In the survey conducted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, 57% of people agreed that lockdown made them realise the importance of open spaces for their mental health and wellbeing. Not surprising, given those living closer to the English coastline reportedly have higher levels of wellbeing.
57% said the lockdown had made them more aware of the importance of these spaces for mental health and wellbeing”Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the WI (May 2020)
Yet, this research goes way back beyond the pandemic. For centuries, the water has been seen as a healing method. In the 17th century, the sea was used as a way to treat people in asylums. Victorian doctors prescribed the “sea air” as a cure for an abundance of issues, from heart problems to depression. These healing powers of the beach have been a long enforced and encouraged cure.
Countries such as Germany and Switzerland, with very limited access to the coast, raised concerns that they were missing out on these health benefits. Yet fear not if you are landlocked! This modern-day research has investigated the perks of being near other open spaces, such as canals or lakes. Local councils have been encouraged to increase preservation and protection for local rivers, to give people a similar benefit to that of being by the coast. You do not need to be along the coastline to feel the abundance of physical and mental benefits to your health!
Although eloping away to the seaside isn’t on the option card with the current restrictions across the world, we can grasp a taste of its joy in other places. When living in London, I can experience this sense of home by a walk along the canal. If that is not an option, I can always watch an episode of Blue Planet.
Words by Grace Oram