I’ve always found spending time in or around water to be especially comforting, even therapeutic. Perhaps it’s because I spent a lot of time as a child on the coast of northern New England. (And I still spend a lot of time near the ocean in New England and Florida.)
And now, modern science shows there really is something to the therapeutic properties of water. So, in a moment, I’ll tell you about its five science-backed health benefits.
But first, let’s reflect on the ancient history of healing waters…
Water heals all wounds—physical, emotional, and spiritual
People have been taking “the water cure” for millennia. Indeed, ancient folk medicine often used hot mineral waters, salt baths, mud baths, and thermal springs to treat sore, inflamed joints.
In European traditions, doctors sent patients with all kinds of ailments of the body and soul to spend time at the seashore. They soaked in thermal springs and hot mineral baths, applied therapeutic mud to painful joints, and simply just spent time along the shore.
In Mediterranean culture, people regularly enjoyed hot, healing baths. They also swam in the highly concentrated saltwater of the Dead Sea to heal their ailments. And in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, they would pack painful joints in hot sand.
In early America, founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson “took the waters” at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Then, in the 1700s and 1800s, Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, developed as a major spa. It was originally a Native American sacred healing ground. Its seven different natural springs have unique mineral contents. And you soaked in them for different ailments.
President James Buchanan actually kept a “summer White House” in Bedford Springs during the summers between 1857 and 1860. President Ronald Reagan also visited Bedford Springs to take in the healing waters.
Warm Springs, Georgia, boasts one of the country’s most-famous therapeutic spas in America. In fact, President Franklin Roosevelt rehabilitated himself from an attack of polio at Warm Springs in 1924. And he returned to soak in its pools almost every year until his death in 1945.
Now, research is validating what people have been experiencing for generations…
Modern science confirms health benefits of water
Modern scientific studies now confirm that people do really benefit emotionally, spiritually, and physically from spending time near water, whether it be oceans, rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, or even fountains.
In fact, there’s even an entire field of study called “blue mind science”—which studies the benefits of spending time near water.
According to Wallace Nichols, a marine biologist and author of the book Blue Mind, humans are somewhat “hard-wired” to spend time near the water. In a recent interview, he said, “Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because as humans, we’re naturally drawn to blue space…but even if you aren’t in an area where there is easy access to water, you can still experience [its] emotional benefits.”
The way I see it, there are four clear, science-backed benefits of spending time in blue spaces. (They’re similar to the benefits of green spaces, with some added advantages.)
1.) Clean air and sunshine
Blue spaces tend to have cleaner air and more sun exposure. In fact, the sun is often stronger at the beach because the sun reflects off the water, sand, and rocks. And this increased sun exposure can really boost your vitamin D levels. Which is a good thing, as research links higher vitamin D levels to lower risks of just about every chronic disease on the planet. Including multiple sclerosis, heart disease, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
2.) More physical activity
We also tend to be more physically active near water. Obviously, you can swim, surf, or fish. But people also tend to take more walks near the water—to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells.
Swimming in natural waters or backyard saltwater pools is also a great, low-impact form of exercise that gets your heart pumping without harming your joints.
Which brings me to my next point…
3.) Joint support
As I explained earlier, people have a long history of healing their joints in water. Even American presidents!
And today, that tradition continues in Europe. In fact, many doctors in Europe specialize in balneology—or the science of hot baths. (It comes from the Latin word balneum, for bath.)
In fact, balneology is part of mainstream medicine in Europe today. (It’s distinct from hydrotherapy, which was a cornerstone of the naturopathic medicine community.) European doctors routinely “certify” medicinal waters, springs, and baths.
So, if you suffer from joint pain, I recommend spending as much time in the water as you can. Even if it’s just in a warm, Epsom salt bath.
4.) Spiritual boost
Spending time near bodies of water benefits your psyche and restores your peace of mind.
In a large, 2013 study, researchers asked 20,000 smartphone users to record their feelings of well-being in their immediate location at random points in time. The “happiest” locations—by far—were along the coastline and in marine environments.
Psychologists think the ebb and flow of tides along the ocean shoreline is particularly helpful in reducing rumination, or focusing on distressing thoughts, which is an established factor in depression. They believe spending time walking on the beach transitions thoughts outwards toward the natural patterns of the environment—helping to put things in perspective and encourage a positive mindset.
There are also now classes in “mindfulness of the sea.” These classes are based on the meditative qualities of the ocean, whether the water is still, or the surf is crashing. When you observe with intention, it provides the hallmark mindfulness sense of being “in the moment,” whether for two minutes or two hours.
So, this weekend, carve out some time for yourself to visit a stream, lake, or your favorite seaside spot. And if that’s not possible, studies suggest even taking a warm, relaxing, leisurely shower or bath in your own home can be particularly therapeutic.
P.S. I talk more about the benefits of spending time in Nature—and engaging in moderate exercise—in the June 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Your warm-weather guide for safe and effective outdoor exercise). Subscribers have access to this report and all of my past content in the archives. So if you haven’t already, sign up today. Click here now!
“Blue mind science proves the health benefits of being by water.” Quartz, 8/5/2019. (https://qz.com/1347904/blue-mind-science-proves-the-health-benefits-of-being-by-water/)