Sun, sand, and waves: beach health benefits


Pooja Singhi

Graded seniors at a beach in Rio de Janeiro.

To all the seniors who dealt with my violent coughs and nose-blows during their IB Mock Exams, it comes as no surprise that I have been sick. Irritated throat, sinus congestion, headache: the whole nine yards. Friday morning after exams finished, my bed was my best friend, so, needless to say, I was not looking forward to the beach trip that had planned.

“Pooja, you should go. The beach will make you feel better.”

At first, I scoffed at my mom’s belief in natural remedies. Despite Paula Soares’ trust in homeopathy and all the TED talks on the Biology Facebook Page that supported spiritual medicine, there was something about good ol’ amoxicillin that I didn’t think the beach could ever compete with. But sitting on the sand and listening to the waves in Camburi changed my mind.

To us citizens of São Paulo, the beach feels just a hop, skip, and a jump away. It’s not unusual to drive over to Guarujá or Juquehy for a weekend escape from the crowds and pollution of São Paulo. In fact, even school trips seem to involve the beach. This year alone, I enjoyed beaches in Recife (Grade 12 HS trip), Ilha do Cardoso (community service), Rio de Janeiro (MUN chair-raining), and Salvador (BRAMUN). And now, after the fun of waves, the massage of sand, and the beauty of an ocean sunset, I understand there may be medicinal benefits to the beach.

First, the sun. Our skin makes vitamin D when directly exposed to sunlight. Beyond just vitamin D, a study suggests that solar rays may prevent autoimmune diseases and increase endorphins, neurotransmitters largely responsible for the feeling of happiness. But before using this excuse to turn an unnatural shade of orange, remember that even 10 minutes of direct sun exposure is enough. After that, grab a bottle of sunscreen, sunglasses, and an umbrella to prevent the not-so-good consequences of Apollo’s chariot.

Next, the sand. The exfoliating powers of sand are no surprise. In fact, cosmetic companies and spas have made thousands of dollars replicating these effects. From face scrubs to mud baths, removing dead skin can do wonders for the body. But, after understanding the science of sand, I realized that those beige grains could do much more than just make my skin soft. The feet have more nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body. Thus, walking barefoot in the sand is extremely stimulating, leading to stronger feelings of contentment and rejuvenation. Martin Zucker, author of Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?, has coined the word “earthing” to describe the “mood-boost” resulting from “connecting our bodies to the ever-present energy of the earth.”

Moreover, exercising on the sand improves physical fitness much more than running on your treadmill or biking around your neighborhood does (HL Biology students: *cough cough* fitness lab idea). Anyone who has walked or run on the beach may suspect this already, but this study suggests that exercising on sand requires 1.6 to 2.5 as much energy as doing so on a hard surface. Scientifically, the shifting sand makes traction more difficult, causing more muscle groups to work harder. So, after eating that fried mandioca or drinking that sugary coconut water, use the sand to lose calories.

The most surprising benefit of the beach: salt water. I have always shied away from entering the water. But, in fact, saltwater gives us important minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and iodine. It also detoxifies the body by flushing out the sinuses and stopping bacterial and fungal infections.

So, plan a trip to Praia do Forte or Ilhabela because the beach will give you much more than relaxation: it actually improves your physical well-being. Next year, back in the United States, I will definitely miss the sun, sand, and waves of Brazil.