In the bleak mid-winter, there is no better way to blow off the cobwebs of the winter blues than a long walk at the coast, according to recent research.
This time of year is undoubtedly tough – dreary weather, freezing temperatures, and long dark days all contribute to a feeling of malaise and despondency. The concept of ‘Blue Monday‘ in the middle of January, when people feel most miserable, may be something of an urban myth, yet seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is real enough.
To lift your mood, however, you don’t need to go as far as foreign climes for some winter sun in order to recuperate. that. Plenty of us opt for winter walks in nature, and for many, that can mean a trip to the local coast.
The health benefits of spending time near the seaside are increasingly well documented, which include making people feel happier and more relaxed.
A good number of people are even moving to the coast permanently in the belief that they will enjoy these benefits all the time. This may well be mentally beneficial, yet it has become increasingly clear that those who visit the seaside for leisure get more out of it.
Nothing like the seaside
Visiting the seaside for its perceived health benefits is hardly a new phenomenon. As far back as the mid-18th century in the UK, city dwellers have sought out places offering cleaner air and the purer offerings that nature can provide.
As industrialization progressed during the 19th century, the desire to visit the coast stemmed as much from a need to escape polluted, overcrowded cities as a desire to be near the sea.
This was when the modern idea of the seaside was essentially invented, and English coastal towns like Blackpool, Skegness, and Scarborough began to boom as a result.
These days, of course, the sticks of rock and donkey rides have mostly been swapped out for a more natural experience. We are more likely to go to the local coast for a few hours away from the stresses of modern life in some beautiful scenery than for fish and chips and to lose a small fortune at the amusements arcade..
On the question of why this might be more beneficial than living at the coast, it is suggested that visitors are in more of a leisurely state of mind. They are open and sensitive to the health-giving properties of coastal areas because they have time to take in the moment and become attuned to the seaside. If so, this might amplify any health benefits.
What did the research show?
To test this idea, a joint study between Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Central Lancashire surveyed 133 individuals at five seaside locations in Lancashire in north-west England (Lytham St Annes, Blackpool, Cleveleys, Fleetwood, and Morecambe).
The researchers gauged their sense of wellbeing by asking them eight questions, including whether they felt better when looking out at the sea, were more relaxed in this environment, and had happy memories of being at the seaside.
Respondents had to score each question out of 4, with 0 being no benefit and 4 being the highest benefit, allowing for a maximum ‘Seaside Wellbeing Index‘ (or SWI) score of 32. The team conducted its surveys in the summertime, but the findings are likely to be applicable the year-round.
The study results
Most respondents displayed relatively high scores. This is unsurprising since it is known that the seaside helps people to relax and feel well. The team split respondents into two broad groups, those at work and those at leisure.
The people surveyed were either working at the time they were surveyed or there for leisure purposes (walking or sitting near the sea). The occupations of the workers ranged from coach driver to chef to nurse.
Those at leisure were broken down into three further sub-groups –
- Overnight visitors;
- Day visitors; and
- Local residents.
Visitors displayed higher scores than local residents. Those who scored highest were visitors staying overnight (an average SWI score of 27.2 compared to 25.9 for local residents, with day visitors actually slightly lower at 25.6).
These results suggest that the longer you stay away from home, the more relaxed and leisurely you become.
When compared to people who were working scored lower on average than those at leisure, the average SWI scores were 22.4 for workers, and 26.2 for those at leisure, a statistically significant difference of 3.8.
What can we draw from this?
This might mean that working people value the seaside environment less. Interestingly, however, the research also indicated that 70% of seaside workers would rather work by the sea than inland.
This takes us back to the idea that while visitors might benefit most from being at the seaside, everyone benefits to some extent. It’s also worth noting there was a subtle difference in average SWI scores for people living away from the sea (25.8) and those living nearby (24.6).
Implications of the findings
Being at leisure gives individuals time not just to see but to properly soak up the seaside environment. This is why it is the perfect antidote to being confined in cities and the stresses of everyday life.
In January, as we look towards the long year ahead, leisure time can therefore be well spent at the coast. Those marketing seaside destinations and managing the visitor experience would do well to highlight the need for visitors to slow down and savor the seaside environment.
There are also implications for doctors. Over the past decade, there is evidence that even the most cynical within the medical community is accepting that there are clear benefits that natural environments can have on health and well-being.
As part of this, it’s clearly worth encouraging people to get away from their lives for a day or two and take time at the seaside.
So if you’re looking for something to do in the depths of January, walking on beaches is not just a way of killing time. It’s a form of medicine. So why not get your coat, hat, and scarf on and head for the seaside?
A couple of windswept hours breathing in some fresh air and exposing yourself to some UV light might make all the difference to your mental health and overall wellbeing.
What do you think of the research findings detailed in this article? Do you take coastal walks to obtain a sense of wellbeing? Let us know in the comments.