- Some people have said they feel better physically after spending time in salt water.
- Being close to the ocean can also have mental benefits, doctors say.
- Using salt water for healing is known as thalassotherapy.
When Reina Sultan spent time in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, earlier this summer, she noticed that she was feeling better than expected.
“Has anyone with POTS/hEDS noticed that going in the ocean makes them feel so much better?”, she wrote on Twitter. “Like I get 2-3 days of feeling like I’m not chronically ill when I swim in the ocean and know if it’s salty or pressured or what, but even my joints feel better.”
Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (HeDS) are neurological conditions that can cause joint pain, dizziness with movement, and fatigue. The tweet took off, and many others with chronic illnesses said their symptoms feel better for days after swimming in salt water.
Doctors say Sultan is onto something – a phenomenon known as thalassotherapyor using salt water for healing dates back to the ancient Greeks.
Salt water has physical and mental health benefits
Anecdotal stories of feeling better in or near salt water — like Sultan’s experience — are common, says Stewart Parnacotta personal trainer and nurse practitioner with Baylor College of Medicine.
“There is some scientific basis to support these claims,” Parnacott said.
ONE 2021 scientific review found evidence that thalassotherapy is associated with improved symptoms in patients. It is especially effective for people with certain skin conditions and inflammatory diseases, the review found.
“Salt water contains various minerals and trace elements such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, which are thought to have potential health benefits,” Parnacott said. “These minerals can promote relaxation, reduce inflammation and support skin health when absorbed through the skin during activities such as swimming or spending time at the beach.”
Being close to the beach can also have mental benefits
As anyone who enjoys a summer trip to the ocean has probably realized, being close to the ocean can also benefit mental health, says Dr. Elliot Dinetza functional medicine physician and staff member at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“On the mental health front, being close to the ocean, a phenomenon often referred to as the ‘blue space effect,’ has been linked to reduced stress levels and overall mental well-being,” Dinetz said.
ONE 2021 examination that included more than 16,000 people in 18 countries, found that spending time near blue spaces, including lakes, rivers and oceans, was associated with improved well-being. Ocean sounds, such as waves, can also advance mental health and relaxation.
To get the most out of it, get near water
While sitting on the beach or floating can be super relaxing, Dinetz says people often get the best results when they move their bodies.
“Activities such as swimming or walking on the beach increase these benefits by improving cardiovascular health and promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers,” he said.
If you don’t live near an ocean or salt lake, don’t worry, Parnacott says. You can get many of the same benefits by visiting a lake or river—or even a pool in a pinch.
“Bodies of water, whether freshwater or saltwater, have inherent qualities that provide health benefits,” he said.
Low-impact exercises like swimming or water aerobics are beneficial for joint health and cardiovascular fitness, while the buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on the joints, making it an ideal option for people with certain musculoskeletal conditions, he says.
“Both freshwater and saltwater environments can offer unique benefits for physical and mental well-being,” Parnacott said. “Finding the balance and taking time to relax in nature can contribute significantly to a healthier and happier lifestyle.”
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