24 May 2021 by Dr Nick Summerton
Britain’s varied coastal environments offer many health-boosting benefits, latest research confirms, but it’s something our ancestors recognised too. By Dr Nick Summerton
In a recent study, it was discovered that, as a country, we take around 60 million coastal walks each year. And with none of us living more than 70 miles/113km from the sea, rambling along the shore is a popular pastime in our nation.
The ancient Romans as well as our Georgian and Victorian ancestors attached particular importance to the health benefits of being in, on or by the sea. During the 19th century many individuals were sent to convalesce in coastal towns with sea-bathing being a common treatment. Today there is a growing body of evidence for the continuing health benefits of spending time near water – in, so called, blue spaces.
Cuckmere Haven, Sussex, courtesy of Ian Cairns, Your Shots, Walk Issue 71.
Marching across a sandy beach or up-and-down the cliff tops is great exercise and really helps to blow away the cobwebs. Breathing in the surf-generated aerosols from crashing waves is good for our lung health and, for people with chest problems, the salty vapours might improve their symptoms and breathing.
Although we need to take care not to overdo it, coastal sunshine is optimal for boosting our vitamin D levels and raising our spirits. On a hot day, a dip in the sea is an added bonus of any coastal walk, with the salt-water helping some skin conditions too.
Spending time by the coast also benefits our mental health. Several studies have demonstrated lower levels of anxiety and depression amongst those living in coastal districts. A good walk in the sea air will help most of us to sleep better.
Many of us enjoy watching the waves roll up the beach. The biggest breakers will be generating negative ions – known as the Lenard effect – that can have positive effects of our mood by affecting the brain chemical, serotonin.
Great Orme, Llandudno by Ruth Pritchard,Your Shots, Walk Issue 71.
Ambling along the shoreline encourages us to be more aware of the world around us. Listening to the seabirds, watching the seals or dolphins, stopping to take in the views or exploring rock pools are all great antidotes to the stresses and strains of daily life.
Our coasts have a rich history too, with fossilised remains of ancient life, the marks of early humans , together with the forts, castles, watchtowers and lighthouses constructed over the last two millennia, providing great interest and features to enjoy on coastal rambles. There is evidence that immersing ourselves in this heritage helps our mental wellbeing, too.
Last year Natural England started a project examining the economic and health impacts of walking on English coastal paths. It will be fascinating to learn what additional benefits are discovered, particularly as the next National Trail, the England Coast Path, continues its 2,700-mile progress, enabling more people to enjoy our coastal environments.
For the latest on our involvement with the England Coast Path, read The coast is clear
Magazine of the Ramblers