There’s nothing quite as synonymous with summer as the beach — and, of course, here in Gibraltar we are lucky to have six beaches, either sandy or rocky, to choose from. On the eastern side there is the aptly named Eastern Beach, the largest beach on the Rock that benefits from sunshine all day long. Catalan Bay, often described as having the charm of a fishing village, lies between Eastern Beach and Sandy Bay (the smallest of them all) is a beautiful man made beach, remade in 2014 after sea storms swept most of the sand away.
The beaches on the western side of the Rock include Little Bay, a rocky beach with rugged cliffs that go straight down to the water and Camp Bay, from where you can view a man-made waterfall. Western Beach is a small sandy beach situated on the northern side of the runway.
People, locals and tourists alike, flock to sit on the sand and play in the surf whenever they have a free moment, but did you know that the beach is good for both your mind and body? As much as we love to soak up Vitamin D from the sun’s rays, we can also benefit from some ‘vitamin sea’!
We all enjoy strolling along the seashore, listening to the sounds of the waves, smelling the salty water and feeling the warm sand beneath our feet, and for those of us who are lucky enough to live near or by the sea, the opportunity to do so is always on hand and there is no doubt that it makes us feel invigorated, but there is some science behind the reason that the beach is beneficial to our health.
Negative ions in the air can help calm our brains and create positive vibes. Negative ions are odourless, tasteless, invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments, and the beach is one of those. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression.
Being near the sea is also stress relieving, so if you are stuck in a rut and feeling full of anxiety, a trip to the beach can boost your mood and help to lower cortisol levels. While you’re at the beach, take a dip and go for a swim. The long muscle movements and the deep breathing required when you are swimming gives feelings of relaxation and positivity, much like yoga, and can stimulate the brain to release endorphins and other stress reducing hormones. These endorphins interact with receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain and along with serotonin can bring about a sense of happiness, positivity and well-being.
So now we are all in a happy mood, let’s consider ‘blue mind’, a term used by marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols in his best-selling book Blue Mind. Dr. Nichols combines cutting-edge neuroscience with compelling personal stories from top athletes, leading scientists, military veterans, and gifted artists to show how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety, and increase professional success. “As water makes up 70 percent of our bodies and covers about 75 percent of the earth’s surface, our brains have an immediate positive response when we’re near water,” says Dr. Nichols.
There’s something about water that attracts and fascinates us, and this is evident where people who are born and raised near the sea are drawn back to it after living inland for a period of time – think of all the Gibraltarians who gravitate back to the Rock after spending time in towns and cities abroad.
A study by the University of Exeter found people who live near the beach have better overall health and wellbeing. Another study cites the enhanced sense of calm from hearing the ocean (more so than relaxing music) and the relaxation of the nervous system due to a reduction of city noise and technology
Lastly, there is one element that usually comes with a beach and that is sand. Some people love how it feels under their feet and others hate those gritty little grains that seem to get everywhere. The sensation of walking barefoot on a warm sandy beach and feeling the sand between our toes has a grounding effect. Another benefit of sand is that it acts as natural spa in that it gives your foot a free massage and it helps to exfoliate those dead cells and make your feet feel softer.
There are more nerve endings in your feet than anywhere else in your body, so it is understandable that walking barefoot, especially on sand, will stimulate them much more than walking in shoes and can bring numerous cardiovascular and circulatory benefits. Sand provides resistance that strengthens your arches, ankles and leg muscles. Walking on wet sand provides more consistency to the tread and every time your foot sinks into the sand, your muscles have to work extra hard to push you back up and move you forward.
In conclusion, going to the beach and being near the sea is good for our health… science says so!