Oh we do love to be beside the seaside

A holiday at the seaside could be a healthy choice, as Lawrence McNeela discovers.

he traditional British seaside has never been more popular. Thanks to a curious set of circumstances involving both the recession and care for the environment, more and more people are choosing to staycation on the coast. However, there are potentially more benefits to holidaying by the sea than merely saving money and air-miles.

For many people the idea of sea-bathing as a health craze originated with the Georgians. However, the belief that absorbing sea minerals through the skin has many health benefits dates from as long ago as ancient Greece. It was Hippocrates himself who coined the name Thalassotherapy to describe what those civilised people understood: that bathing in the mineral-rich waters of the sea is good for both mind and soul. To replicate this, the Greeks immersed themselves in seawater filled pools and hot tubs. Many centuries later, updated versions of these treatments can be found in our region at Champneys Forest Mere and WT Spa Richmond.

Of course one does not need to shower in seawater to take advantage of the minerals found within, or even drink glasses of the stuff, as 18th century physician Richard Russell advised! Swimming in the sea is far better for you and the perfect way to spend a summer’s afternoon.

A healthy immune system is said to be one result of a dip in the sea. This is because seawater contains many vitamins, salts, amino acids, trace elements and even micro-organisms said to produce antibiotic and antibacterial effects. For adults and older children, a refreshing dip in one of the stretches of water surrounding our coast is enough to take advantage of this natural goodness but as the sea temperature rarely gets above 18 degrees Celsius during the summer, prolonged exposure for babies and infants may not be appropriate.
There is a simple way to ensure little people do not miss out. Parents can add Dead Sea salts to a child’s bath. These are preferable to other sea salts as they are said to contain ten times the mineral content found elsewhere. These minerals consist primarily of:
✽ Magnesium which assists the body in cell metabolism.
✽ Calcium which helps the building of healthy bones and teeth and cleanses skin pores.
✽ Sodium which aids the body in both expelling waste and absorbing nourishment.
✽ Potassium which helps regulate muscle contractions and balances skin moisture.
✽ Bromides which have relaxing, anti-biotic properties.
✽ Iodine which assists in energy production and the production of the hormone thyroxin. A host of benefits are claimed for bathing babies and infants in such mineral-rich seawater. They include the prevention of asthma, respiratory illnesses, colds and influenza. It is also used in the treatment of eczema and other skin conditions such as psoriasis. Finally, it is said to promote positive sleep patterns and relaxation.

The ancients also had faith in the healing power of the sun, which they called heliotherapy. They understood that the light of the sun provided all manner of benefits to the body and soul. Egyptians, Romans, Incans and Saxons all worshipped the sun as a health-bringing god. Indian medical literature from one and a half millennia ago describes treating skin disorders with a combination of herbs and natural sunlight. During the 10th century AD, Chinese practitioners began doing similarly. It then took nearly a thousand years for modern Western medicine to finally catch up. In 1903 Niels Finsesn won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for adapting these ancient beliefs to treat a virulent skin disease called lupus vulgaris.

Since then, the use of controlled light has been used to treat a variety of ailments. It is most famous for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression through widely available light boxes. It is also used to treat skin conditions, pain management and to speed up the healing of serious wounds.

Of course exposure to the sun can be extremely dangerous, especially to young skin. Today’s medical experts recommend young children are kept out of direct contact with the sun wherever possible and are covered with loose fitting clothing and UV-blocking creams. However, there is a safe way of exposing babies and infants to the sun’s life-preserving rays. Allow a baby bath filled with fresh water to warm in the summer sun. The water will then absorb the UV rays, allowing the synthesis of vitamin D and bringing other health benefits in a way which will not potentially harm your child’s delicate skin.

Calm and relaxed’
There are other health benefits provided by a family holiday at the seaside. Swimming is excellent exercise and particularly good for expectant mothers because it strengthens abdominal and shoulder muscles, and helps relieve the pains and aches associated with pregnancy. Research has found that women who swim regularly during pregnancy suffer 75% fewer miscarriages or stillbirths than those who jogged or did not exercise at all.

Floating in the sea ensures blood is diverted from the legs to the abdominal area. The quickening of the supply of fresh, oxygenated blood around the body allows more oxygen to reach the brain. For these reasons, a day splashing in the sea can leave us feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.

On the other hand, a holiday by the coast can also leave us deeply calm and at peace. According to naturopathic doctor Connie Hernandez, inhaling a sea mist filled with negatively charged ions (molecules that attach to your lungs) boosts our immune systems. These ions also speed up our ability to absorb oxygen, as well as balancing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is associated with moods and stress. The sound of waves also alters wave patterns in the brain, lulling parents and children alike into a deeply relaxed state. These may be the reasons why we tend to feel so happy and calm once the day comes to an end.