Growing up in Santa Barbara, I’ve loved the ocean my whole life. But it was only as an adult that I realized that — just like the ocean itself — there was more going on under the surface than I thought!
If you also feel more relaxed or happy in the presence of the ocean, you’re not alone. And it’s not all in your head — it’s in your body too. The ocean actually works like medicine in our bodies, which is why the ocean makes us feel so good: it’s helping us heal!
Can spending time in the ocean actually help heal what ails you? I’ll break in down for you in this blog about why the ocean makes you feel good.
1) It helps with psych-social wellbeing. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which easily translate to data and hard numbers, the benefits of blue care interventions, and all the variables involved, are far more subjective and thus harder for some scientists to wrap their minds around. Despite this, there is still thankfully a growing field of research fighting for attention and funding that confirms what many humans have known intuitively for centuries about the healing properties of water.
A recent 2018 study, aimed at addressing the gap between our growing interest in the therapeutic uses of water and the lack of evidence-based studies on it, found that blue care can have “direct benefit for health, especially mental health and psycho-social wellbeing.” There was also evidence that blue care interventions fostered greater social connectedness, another key component of mental wellbeing.
A 2017 study did a systematic review of quantitative evidence collected on the relationship between outdoor blue space exposure, health and wellbeing. It found “consistent evidence of positive associations between blue space exposure and mental health and physical activity” and urged scientists to continue studying this area in order to better understand the causality.
2) It helps folks dealing with PTSD, autism, cancer, and more. This fascinating article describes how scuba diving with whale sharks is used as a method to help veterans dealing with PTSD. Mike Hilliard, a dive master who is also a former army sergeant, described how traditional interventions like medication and exposure therapy had only made his PTSD worse, and he was considering ending his life until he found scuba diving. He described its profound impact on him eloquently: “Seeing the fish, hearing the ocean — there is a complete innocence about it. There are no bad memories in the water. Everything just wants to live. It made me want to live again.”
Surf therapy has also been found to be hugely beneficial for people with autism; this article details how the author’s son transformed when introduced to surfing, even inspiring a local non-profit called Surf for All. Surf for All expanded to eventually include “cancer survivors, paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, and platoons of Wounded Warriors on temporary furlough from Walter Reed Hospital,” all harnessing the power of the surf to heal “one wave at a time.”
3) It helps reduce pain. For those of us who aren’t feeling up to activities so adventurous, even just being in the water — swimming, exercising, or simply floating — can be hugely beneficial. The buoyancy of the water allows for a greater range of motion in the water than on the land, which is why so many seniors and people with disabilities see such a benefit from aquatic therapy. The hydrostatic pressure of the water can decrease pain, increase circulation, and even serve as a kind of passive massage for sore muscles — and it dampens tactile sensory information to the brain, making a float or swim a huge source of calming energy for many people.
For more information about why the ocean makes us feel so good, check out today’s video.