Hit The Beach! Amazing Health Benefits of Sun, Surf and Sand

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During the summer months, kids are out of school and many workplaces slow down production. June, July and August are great times to take some well-deserved R&R. Taking time away from the daily grind can relieve stress, improve your mental skills, and even boost physical health by getting you out from behind your desk.

But where to go? Travel to a far-away destination such as Paris or Greece? Hike in the mountains? While those can be awesome vacations, you may find what you need closer to home.

Author J. Aaron Hipp PhD, an environmental health expert and assistant professor at the Brown school published a study about the restorative environment of the beach in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. “Studies have shown that natural environments like beaches and waterfront parks offer more restorative benefits than gyms, entertainment venues, and the built urban environment,” he says.

Benefit #1 – The Sun
Yes, there are risks to too much sun exposure. But there are benefits as well. Vitamin D is the only essential vitamin that the body makes but it needs UV rays in order to activate production.

Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption and building strong bones. Having enough of the vitamin (which is something scientists think we don’t do) may also decrease heart disease risk, slow certain types of cancer, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Just 10 minutes of sun exposure can provide about 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D – plenty to meet our daily needs. Be sure to apply sunscreen and wear protective clothing if you are out in the sun for longer periods of time.

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Benefit #2 – The Sand
Do you notice that on vacation, there are many more people out exercising than you see at home? A lot of people love a good stroll on the beach in the early mornings or evenings. Walking in the sand offers not only a good form of physical exercise, but mental health benefits as well.

The soles of your feet have more sweat glands and nerve-endings per square centimeter than any other part of your body. Walking barefoot stimulates them much more than walking in shoes. When you walk in the sand, you feel more connected to earth.

Walking in the sand is good exercise because it requires 1.6 to 2.5 times more energy than it takes to walk on a hard surface. Walking barefoot also strengthens the muscles in the foot.

Benefit #3 – The Surf
Swimming is excellent exercise for the entire body. Swimming in sea water may (to some) seem unsanitary because of all of the sea life and potential pollution, but actually, if you find a well-maintained beach – the salt water is beneficial. Sea water contains high levels of various minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iodine, which may help fight infection, offer therapeutic effects and potentially help the body heal and detoxify.

For ratings of “Cleanest Beaches” on both the East and West Coasts, read the Natural Resources Defense Council’s “23rd Annual Beach Water Quality Report

Just be safe. Ocean-wave related injuries occur every year at the beach, sending thousands to the Emergency Room. When you are within the “surf zone” – the area between the water’s edge and where the waves break – be aware that the force of the waves can slam you down against the sandy ocean floor causing strains, sprains, fractures or even broken bones.

Further out, be aware of rip currents which accounts for over 100 deaths per year. Always swim near a lifeguard stand. The United States Lifesaving Association shows that survival rate in the case of emergency is significantly higher when the beach is patrolled by a lifeguard.

References:
Hipp JA, Ogunseitan O. Effect of environmental conditions on perceived psychological restorativeness of coastal parks. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 2011.
Mead MN. Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008.
Lejeune TM, Willems PA, Heglund NC. Mechanics and energetics of human locomotion on sand. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2011.
Moghaddam J, Hefzollesan M, Salehian MH, Shirmohammadzadeh M. Effect of Different Exercises on Reducing Male Students Depression. Annals of Biological Research. 2012.
Delaware Sea Grant College Program – Emergency department visits from beach injuries are common, study finds. Updated June 5, 2013.
Natural Resources Defense Council – 23rd Annual Beach Water Quality Report

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