Paddle Healthy| The Science of Saltwater and Happiness

Turns out, saltwater (and by default, SUP) is an ultra effective therapy for treating depression. Attending therapy sessions with the one you love won't hurt you, either. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt
Turns out, saltwater (and by default, SUP) is an ultra effective therapy for treating depression. Attending therapy sessions with the one you love won’t hurt you, either. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Paddle Healthy| The Science of Saltwater and Happiness

Modern science finds saltwater is a viable alternative to prescription meds

The ocean might be an ever-changing playground for water enthusiasts, but it’s also a not-so-secret source for overall healthy nutrition. Sure the ocean allows us to paddle for miles, catch some fun ones or connect endless bumps on downwind runs—all of which bring about pure happiness—but humanity’s history with the sea has roots beyond our recreational love affair. The Greeks, for instance, used thalassotherapy (therapy using sea water or marine products) for centuries. And for good reason…turns out, modern research finds the ocean to be an unquestionably effective form of mental and physical therapy. So rather than scarfing handfuls of mystery meds and antidepressants, consider these proven facts about the merits of saltwater (and by default, SUP) as a viable alternative for mending mental ailments. You’ll never need to make up another excuse to paddle again. —Shari Coble

Sleep more soundly.

It’s not just being in the sun all day or the energy expended during activity that’s responsible for making you sleep easy after a day at the beach—it’s that ocean air. Not only do negative ions in ocean air increase our body’s oxygen absorption, but they also help balance serotonin levels, which play an important role in regulating the body’s sleep cycle and daytime energy. The sound of the ocean also helps soothe the mind.

Stress less.

Speaking of soothing the mind, do you ever wonder why you feel so relaxed when you’re at the beach? Or why the sound of the ocean is undoubtedly included on every sleep sound machine ever made? Turns out, the sound of the ocean calms the brain, bringing you to an overall state of relaxation. Also, remember those negative ions in the air? Well, we mentioned that they affect the sleep cycle from serotonin, but that brain chemical also helps to alleviate depression and relieve stress too. If you’re feeling stressed and can’t get a workout in, at least get to the beach and breath in some salty ocean air.

Breathe easier.

Studies show that ocean air can help improve health for people with lung conditions as well as respiratory illnesses like pulmonary and cystic fibrosis. Breathing in the saltwater mist from the ocean helps patients with such lung infections to more easily eliminate contaminated mucus from the lungs, allowing for easier breathing among other benefits.

Promote happiness.

The book Blue Mind by marine biologist and conservationist Wallace J. Nichols dives into the science behind the human-water connection. Marine and coastal dwellers are more than five percent happier than people living inland and Nichols’ book explains why, drawing scientific evidence from studies in neurosciences, biology and psychology. Nichols points out how dopamine—a happy hormone—is released when in proximity to water. He also explains how humans benefit from being near, in, under or on the water in all different realms of life—from improving physical and mental health, to success in our careers.
Other studies, too, show that well-being generally improves among those who move closer to the coast, causing city planners to wonder if more ‘blue space’ (water features) is needed in urban areas. ‘Blue space’—‘health-enabling places and spaces, where water is at the center of a range of environments with identifiable potential for the promotion of human well-being’—has taken center stage because similar to the effects of living on the coast, it seems to promote healthier living including lifestyles with a higher rate of activity.

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The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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