How visiting the sea can boost your wellbeing
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 08:46 15 July 2020
Summer’s here and lockdown restrictions are being tentatively lifted. Time to dive into the notion of blue health.
Some bracing sea air is good for you, don’t we all know that? Yorkshire’s spectacular coastline is full to the brim of striking views and lively coastal communities.
Coastal environments have a different atmosphere; we all feel it. But the science backs this up, too. Studies in so-called ‘blue health’ show that water subconsciously boosts the mood of many.
In Scarborough the salty sea air is part of a wellbeing prescription that includes so called surf-therapy for children called The Wave Project. Matt Jones is the coordinator for North Yorkshire.
The Wave Project charity runs a prescription surf programme that has proven the benefits of being near, in and under the water. It started in Cornwall in 2010, when a group of 20 young people sat on the beach at Watergate Bay, Newquay, for a surfing lesson. They had all been diagnosed with mental health disorders, ranging from mild to severe, yet to watch them on the beach, none of this was visible.
Quite quickly, the project managed to prove the scientific benefits of being in and around the water, and the charity started working with the NHS to be able to provide surf therapy for children. The project in Yorkshire now has three branches on the go, one in Whitby and two sites in Scarborough. Working with referral partnerships through schools, the NHS, child services and disability groups, The Wave Project has gone from strength to strength over the last few years.
Matt believes more and more people are starting to realise our natural coastline could be used for wellbeing. ‘Aesthetically, it’s always looked stunning, but the temperature often puts people off in this country. It does feel as though those barriers are slowly being broken though and people are becoming wiser to the benefits,’ he says.
‘The blue health space isn’t just the ocean itself, but where people can go to in their mind when they are in that coastal environment. It releases enzymes that make people feel better about themselves and surf therapy itself really makes a difference to people.’
It has been life-changing for Matt: ‘I’ve surfed all my life and it changed my life, too. The difference it makes to people is amazing – the feeling of moving through the water is a magical experience. The ocean and the waves rolling in draws you in, it’s just such a magical place and people are naturally mesmerised by it,’ he smiles. ‘It’s an unknown realm to many people too and the immersion of cold water helps with learning to control your breathing.’
A big part of the project is about making the accessibility to blue health and surf therapy accessible to more people. With wetsuit technology having come a long way too now, it’s easier and more manageable for people to get in the water. The project has partnered with surf schools all along the Yorkshire coast, so that children can have access to top of the range kit and equipment. ‘We’re looking at what we can do inland for people who struggle to get to the coast in Yorkshire too,’ he adds.
The Wave Project works to build self-esteem, help with building social relationships, encourages children to build resilience and improves their vitality, differences Matt has noticed in those involved with the project.
‘Every case is different obviously, but you see people’s layers start to come away as the surfing builds their confidence,’ he says. ‘It opens doors for them to express themselves in a different environment.’
The concept of blue health was first brought about through the publishing of Blue Mind by Wallace Nichols, a best-selling book on blue health and the effects that water can have on our wellbeing. It fuelled mountains of research over the last few years, with many studies highlighting that water, and the ocean, are effective resources for therapy.
Wallace says our minds can more easily wander when we are near the coast. ‘It is the inverse of our current condition of monotonous suffocation.’ Ever wondered why you feel so much better and less stressed after a trip to the seaside? The concept of blue health allows us to step away from our world of over-stimulation, electronic overwhelm and closed spaces.
With research showing that surfers report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and that living by the coast leads to improved physical and mental health, it has allowed for huge development in Yorkshire and the rest of the country.
Of course, salt water has been used for years in medicine, and it has long been known for its restorative qualities and healing properties – particularly in skin care. Scientifically, salt water contains magnesium, and it eliminates toxins which creates an easier environment for people to breathe in.
Additionally, Hippocrates noted the healing effects of salt water in his studies of thalassotherapy, whereby he highlighted its ability to reduce inflammation by bringing in minerals the body uses to boost immunity.
But the concept of blue health and being calm in coastal environments is, in some ways, an unexplained mental phenomenon – it simply makes people feel better.
Clearly, considering 270 million visits per year in England are made to the coast; people are intrinsically drawn to the ocean.
Into the blue
For Yarm photographer, Michael Lazenby, the ocean has always been a constant in his life and something he credits with helping him to find balance amongst the chaos of everyday life. ‘If things ever get too stressful it’s a place I can come to and unwind,’ he tells me. ‘Once I’ve stepped on to the beach and I hear the waves, everything else seems to go away. It’s a place where you can find yourself again if you think you’re lost.’
He is inspired by the deep waters – and the unknown. ‘When I look out to sea, the horizon is endless. That says opportunity and adventure. It allows me to reconnect with my creative side and gather my thoughts, something that’s usually quite tough when you’re a creator.’
And his favourite Yorkshire spot? ‘Saltwick Bay!’ he says. ‘It’s overshadowed by Whitby, but it has a beautiful cove beach with a nab that looks like The Sphinx when the tide comes in. To top it off, it’s got a crashed ship, an incredible stretch of rock pools and a lot of fossils to be found.’
So, now we know that it’s scientifically proven to make you feel better, where are some of the best places in Yorkshire to get your dose of vitamin sea?
Although we may not be able to flock to them with complete freedom straight away, it’s nice to get some inspiration and dream about the months to come.
You don’t have to be in the ocean to soak up the benefits of blue health. Simply being in the vicinity of water can boost your mood, especially in places that are wide and open, and allow your eye to follow the horizon.
The openness of this eliminates feelings of restriction and the optimum place for nature therapy, according to blue health experts, is where the ocean meets the land. Lucky that we’ve got some stunning walks, then!
Can’t make it to the coast?
Don’t worry, it’s not all about the ocean – head to your nearest body of water and take in the calming effects there instead.
We’ve rounded up some alternatives…