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Vitamin Sea: Surprising health benefits of the ocean

In partnership with Joel Pilgrim, Waves of Wellness

5 minute read
Four people running into the ocean with surfboards

We’ve all heard about the benefits of vitamins A, B and C, but there’s another vitamin you’ve probably already reaped the benefits of – without even knowing it.

Vitamin sea.

The health benefits of sea water became widely documented back in the 18th and 19th century when English doctors started prescribing ocean baths to help cure conditions they labelled as ‘melancholy’ and ‘spleen’ (which, according to the Washington Post was considered to be ‘an excess of black bile that made people introverted, depressed, cautious or moody’).

These days, many Aussies spend the bulk of the summer holidays by the ocean – our bodies covered in a fine coating of white sand and our hair stiff from the salt.

But, although we know a beach holiday is good for the soul, what are the proven health benefits that come from the sea?

We trawled through medical journals and spoke with Joel Pilgrim, occupational therapist and founder of nib foundation partner Waves of Wellness to find out six of the biggest benefits of spending time in the ocean.

1. Hay fever

Find yourself clogged up each spring from hay fever? Might be time to head to the ocean. Studies have found that nasal irrigation (when you flush your nose with a salty solution such as ocean water) can help with both inflammation and infection of the sinuses.

2. Respiratory system

You don’t even need to immerse yourself in the ocean water to reap its benefits. One Australian study that looked at the benefits of salt air on surfers suffering from cystic fibrosis found that salt air helped clear out the patients’ lungs, with some of the study participants even reducing their reliance on certain antibiotics.

3. Overall wellbeing

We all know the physical benefits of being active, but Joel explains that jumping in the ocean for a surf is more than that.

“In my opinion, when it comes to physical health and mental health, you can’t have one without the other. They are truly interconnected, and to live a well life, the two must be in harmony. Surfing is a high-intensity sport, which causes the body to release positive endorphins in the brain. This, mixed with the psychological benefits of surfing and the outdoors, makes it the perfect landscape to promote overall wellbeing.”

Joel Pilgrim, founder of Waves of Wellness in the oceanJoel Pilgrim

4. Skin

Our body’s largest organ can also benefit from the effects of salt water. The Department of Dermatology at the University of Kiel did a study on the benefits of magnesium, which is a common mineral in sea water, and found that it not only improves skin roughness and inflammation, but it leaves the skin hydrated and moisturised.

5. Flow state

Joel explains that surfing and swimming are great activities to help get you into what psychologists call a ‘flow state’ or ‘in the zone’ – states which are linked to the production of the brain’s reward hormone, dopamine.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the psychologist behind the phenomenon known as flow state theory – it’s all about that feeling of immersion in an activity. The interesting part is that the chemical and electrical pathways in our brain are altered while experiencing this flow. In our Waves of Wellness programs, we use surfing as therapy to promote mental health and wellbeing. The shoreline acts as a barrier from the ups and downs life can throw as us, and allows us to be in the moment, practising mindfulness in the waves and on the water.”

6. Brown fat

Our bodies store two types of fat – brown and white. White fat is generally the result of consuming excess calories and large amounts of this type of fat are associated with many chronic diseases (especially when the white fat is stored around the abdominal area). However brown fat generates heat by burning calories and people with more brown fat are better able to cope with cold temperatures. So, for most of us, we should aim to reduce our white fat storage and increase our storage of brown fat – which is where the ocean comes in. Studies have shown that cold water swimming (in water less than seven degrees) could be a strategy to increase brown fat – and could therefore help prevent obesity.

Getting ready to jump into the waves? Before you reap the benefits of a swim, make sure you and your family stay safe. Check out our article How to spot a rip or the 5 biggest sun safety myths you need to stop believing for more.

The Waves of Wellness program is supported by nib foundation, who provide up to $2 million in funding annually to charities that work to improve the health and wellbeing of Australians across the country. Since it was established in 2008, nib foundation has granted $15.8 million in funding to more than 100 charities with the aim of helping people and communities live healthier lives.

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