BY JOHANNA BJÖRK
It’s no surprise that spending time by the ocean grounds us, brings us calm and provides a greater sense of creativity and clarity — a well-needed antidote to our constantly connected lives. Overlooking a seemingly endless expanse of blue water is pretty much the opposite of staring at an ever-updating social feed on your smartphone — and it provides many healing benefits.
“The sea water’s many minerals and vital elements combined with sunlight’s nutrient benefits make living on or near the water the perfect remedy for everything from mild fatigue to depression,” says Magen Banwart, a healthy lifestyle coach who for over 20 years has worked with high-level clients, including designers Norma Kamali and Ralph Lauren, in New York City and the Hamptons. “Combined, they can boost your immune system, improve your circulation and enhance your overall sense of well-being. And you don’t need to actually get in the water to get most of these benefits, just being in the sea air can give you a boost — physically, mentally and emotionally.”
While health and wellness have emerged as a main area of focus in luxury living, the conversation around them is shifting away from recreational spaces like yoga or meditation rooms and fitness centers toward incorporating wellness into our lives more organically. Being outdoors, in close proximity to water, provides relaxation and mental clarity, which can have positive effects on exercise. A study published by the American Public Health Association found that — although physical activity promotes health regardless of where it is practiced — outdoor exercise results in “greater feelings of enjoyment, energy, vitality, restoration, and self-esteem.”
When it comes to luxury real estate, ocean views are — unsurprisingly — the most coveted. Living near what scientists refer to as “blue space” can lower stress levels and make us feel happier, according to a 2016 study in New Zealand, which compared people’s mental health to how much green or blue space they could see from their homes. Green spaces, like parks, didn’t make the same impact on overall levels of happiness.
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist and author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, believes everyone has an inherently “blue mind” — “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” — that’s activated when we spend time near water.
Water sports like surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing and kayaking often conjure up images of freedom and carefree spontaneity. What is it about the combination of physical activity and water that makes us feel so free? “I think for a lot of us they bring a visceral sense of joy and limitlessness,” Banwart says. “They represent the endless summer days of youth when everything was possible. Out there on the water, we’re more present and peaceful — we’re at one with this massive force that, in a very, very good way, reminds us how small and insignificant we are. Challenging the body physically while getting the health benefits of the ocean water and sun results in that blissful state we experience.”
Even those who don’t live near the sea can incorporate water into their exercise routines, by planning day trips or vacations to the ocean or a nearby lake or river. “Find a good kayak or stand-up paddleboard instructor to take you out for a couple hours,” Banwart says. “It’s a perfect way to explore an area from a different vantage point and get exercise while doing it.”
As suggested by biologist E. O. Wilson, there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. We are drawn to nature because we are intrinsically connected to it. Humans are, after all, made up of 50 to 65 percent water. The health benefits of life by the water are powerful, easy to absorb and seem to be as limitless as the ocean itself.
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