There is something extraordinary that occurs as we stand at the edge of a continent and contemplate the sea. A part of this connection is the seemingly endless horizon with occasional silhouettes of ships crossing the waters. We feel fortunate that the Outer Banks sand is soft and warm beneath our feet. The waves crest and roll to the shore with a rhythm that is soothing in its constancy.
Poets have long written about the sea and its mystical power over our emotions. What they intuitively expressed in words, we are now finding to be factual; it’s not in our imaginations that the sea soothes our fears and imparts a calming effect on us.
Or, perhaps the feelings evoked by the seashore are partially grounded in our imaginations. Science has been researching why being near the sea creates a sense of well-being. This field of research began about ten years ago, and although the results are tenuous, the connections they are finding are quite compelling.
In 2013 an environmental psychologist, Mathew White, was studying census data in England, and he noticed people living close to the sea had a significantly better sense of well-being than the rest of the country. This information encompassed all areas of the country and included all age groups. The obvious question arose, “Is there a clear physiological reason for these results?”
Some of the physical effects commonly noted may have a factual basis. People consistently state they sleep better by the sea. Several sources confirm a theory that coastal salt air contains abundant levels of healthy negative ions. Negative ions are responsible for two functions that create a more restful sleep; oxygen absorption by the body and balancing levels of serotonin, a body chemical that is associated with healthy sleep patterns, mood stabilization and stress reduction.
That stroll along the beach is certainly good for the heart, and nothing compares to walking in sand to tone muscles. But there may be even more to it. According to research done by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, even a brief walk on the beach can alter a bad mood and give people an emotional boost. The study, concluded in 2013, was done over a two year period and included 2,750 participants. From a scientific standpoint more studies will need to be done before a definitive conclusion can be reached, but results thus far are very suggestive that time spent at the seashore have positive effects on people’s overall wellbeing.
Is one beach location better than another? This is most likely a matter of personal choice. Those who flock to the Outer Banks likely do so, because our growth has been planned to allow for protection of large portions of our native seashore and wildlife. There is little question that spending time in a natural setting has overall benefits for the relaxation and rejuvenation people search for during their valuable vacation days.