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Have you ever spent a day at the beach and come back home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated? You may readily agree that the beach has a calming effect, but did you also know that being at the beach can have a dramatic effect on your health and well-being and can even change your brain. Let’s take a look at some of the scientifically backed benefits that the beach can offer.
Lora Fleming of the University of Exeter in England says the idea that the beach helps our health is well established. As early as the 18th century doctors use to prescribe trips to the ocean to visit “bathing hospitals”. Bathing hospitals wee specially designed clinics that provided seawater bath treatments.
Fleming notes however, that scientist have only started looking at the ocean’s health benefits experimentally in recent times.
The prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotion and self-refection (as well as other functions) has been shown to be engaged when ocean sounds are played. Scans taken by scientists of participants of studies that were exposed to ocean sounds and traffic noises proved that this was the case.
The peaceful feeling we get at the beach could be a result of molecular changes that are happening in our bodies. The ocean’s waves produce negative ions. Negative ions accelerate our bodies ability to absorb oxygen. They also balance levels of serotonin; a chemical produced by the body that is related to mood and stress. This is one reason why being at the beach have been linked, by scientists to positive mental energy and a general overall sense of health and well-being. It may even make us sleep better.
The reason the beach has such a calming effect on us could be because of the sound the waves make. Shelley Batts, Ph.D., an auditory neuroscientist at Stanford University and a presenter at the first Blue Mind Summit writes “There’s a lot of research that has parsed out what types of noise humans find pleasant and relaxing, and what types are considered noxious and stress-inducing”.
The most relaxing and pleasant sounds to listen to are those that have predictable wave patterns. The sound should also be middling to low pitches, soft in volumes and harmonic frequencies at regular intervals. The waves of the ocean tick all of these boxes. They are regular and soft to listen to.
The sound of the ocean may have an even deeper emotional effect according to Batts. The noise of the ocean ““probably triggers deep memories or feelings of relaxation and safety. Some people might even say it’s recalling the womb and your mother’s heartbeat.”
There is a stress hormone called cortisol. Some noises, such as traffic and airplane noise can cause this hormone to be released. When this hormone is release health problems such as ulcers and heart disease can occur. The calming noise of the ocean works to decrease cortisol levels. In this way the ocean can have a positive effect on our overall health and may prevent potential health problems.
The flat plane of the ocean’s surface may also give us a sense of security and safety. Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich says that humans feel safe when they are in places that are not complex. In forest humans need to be weary of predator animals; in the cities there are crooks and villains to be wary of; however, at the beach we can see for miles and this gives us peace of mind. There are no potential threats to think about.
“We’re constructed, neurologically, to normalize our environment—to bring it under our control,” Merzenich says. “When we look out to the sea, or we’re along the strand, we’re in a predictable, stable environment.”
So next time you see it is a nice sunny day outside why not take a trip to the beach? You will be doing yourself and your body a world of good.
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