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Ocean Therapy for Personal Wellbeing

Health Care 04 Nov, 2022 Follow News

Ocean Therapy for Personal Wellbeing

So, you take a soothing dip in our wonderful seas and what’s the first thing you experience?

I know, you’re thinking a sense of wellbeing or feeling refreshed, and then it dawns on you, a runny nose! And with that realisation, we can start to appreciate that the benefits of the ocean are more than mental, even if some of the most powerful effects are on how we feel.

Now that I’ve given you just a small sniff of the potential breadth of health benefits of the sea, I guess you’re wondering about that runny nose. Sinus problems are really common, whether longer term or related to more immediate health issues like a cold, and whereas there is obviously no substitute for good medical advice, that medical advice, in Cayman, may well include a dip in the ocean, the ultimate saline wash. So how does this benefit us?

Cilia are small, complex, hair-like structures of the paranasal sinus mucosa. The lungs and nasal passages are continuously exposed to pathogens, toxins, and other particles, and mucociliary clearance, the act of dragging up and expelling this gunk, is an essential part of our normal respiratory defence. Mucus acts as a primary physical barrier, trapping these particles and pathogens. The cilia move both the mucus layer and fluid in the underlying periciliary layer up the respiratory tract and out. And as anyone taking a dip knows only too well, seawater is the perfect accelerant.

So, what other benefits are associated with the ocean? Well, quite apart from the obvious benefit of the exercise you get, especially if that dip involves swimming, there are a range of recognised health effects:

• Skin health

• Immune system

• Mental health & wellbeing

• Weight loss

• Cold water benefits

That latter area is increasingly well-recognised, from improved blood flow and circulation to reductions in musculoskeletal problems and pain, including improved recovery of muscles. Of course, our Cayman Islands oceans are not quite as beneficial as a dip in a Finnish pond in winter, but it does remind us when we are shivering at the prospect of an average winter water temperature of a just above freezing 79F (26C), this is perhaps the very best time to embrace a bracing swim.

The effects of cold water extend to weight loss too and the same principle applies. The effects can be observed from a single, short duration dip, and health influencers such as Tim Ferris go further, advocating sitting in an ice bath; “I’ll sit in the ice bath up to my waist for about 10 minutes also reading a book or magazine and then for the last few minutes go up to the neck with the hands out of the water”. That might be a bit extreme for us tropical humans, but it certainly reinforces the benefits of a winter ocean dip.

Seawater is rich in essential minerals, including magnesium, sodium, calcium, chloride and sulphate. Quite apart from the skin rejuvenating affects of the sea, individuals with skin health issues such as psoriasis and eczema may well see enhanced benefits. Of course, these conditions need the guidance of a qualified dermatologist too but the sea is in the therapeutic armamentarium. Beyond skin specifically, the magnesium in sea water is thought to lower cortisol levels, which calms the nervous system and reduces stress, which ironically is a trigger for skin conditions, especially inflammatory ones.

And that leaves us with mental health and wellbeing. And I am inclined to think this is where we see our biggest benefits, given the link between mental and physical health. Hydrotherapy has long been advocated as a treatment for anxiety and depression and if you think about Granny’s advice if you’re feeling stressed, it’s going to include a relaxing bath, or getting out in nature. Well, how about a relaxing ocean bath (no shampoo though!) in nature? That has to be the ultimate in non-medical mental therapies.

And if we want a more scientific confirmation, a study commissioned by Swim England for World Mental Health Day found that 43% of those swimming regularly cited feeling happier as a result of making this a daily habit. Furthermore, 26% were more motivated to achieve their daily tasks and 15% even said that life felt more manageable. Given the detrimental effects of feeling overwhelmed, it is difficult to over-estimate the positive impact of this.

So, yet again, alongside things like better sleep, we have identified a natural cure-nearly-all, scientifically documented, that comes without a cost and is available to anybody in Cayman, regardless of means. Dip in the ocean anyone?

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