How beach walks help our brains stay sharp as we age

Help your brain beat the ageing process with a coastal hike.

Spending time by our coastline always makes us feel so much better, but did you know that just breathing in the sea air boosts your brain power? Research has shown that the negative ions in the marine breeze can help rejuvenate our brains and help them stay sharp as we age.

Even better, a beach walk doesn’t just help your brain health, it also makes you happier and can lower your stress levels, too. We find out the facts and how you can benefit from this amazing anti-ageing activity.

A man and woman leaning on a stile on a cliff top pathCredit: Shutterstock / MonkeyBusiness Images
A coastal hike doesn’t just put a smile on your face – it has many health benefits

How sea air boosts your brain power

Neuroscientist Dr Rachel Taylor, of the Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre – part of the National Institute for Health and Care Research – says living near the sea or regular visits to our coastline can actually improve our brain function.

She said: “Research has shown that, when people breathe in the sea air, the ions contained in it helps improve the electrical functionality of the brain by 47% as well as creating new neural pathways, which, simply put, allows you to think with more clarity.”

She explained that, as we age, these neural pathways can decline, along with brain functionality. Anything to help these can keep us sharper for longer.

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a sunset view over the Cornish coastCredit: Shutterstock / Junk Culture
The Cornish coastline

Dr Taylor told Saga Exceptional: “Everybody can create new neurons until the day they die; these are caused by new experiences (as well as meeting new people). The more flexibility we have in our mindset, the more elastic our brain is and the better we age. Trying different routines is also good – such as brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand.

“However, our mental capacity isn’t just about the ageing process, it’s the environment we live in, the pollutants we are exposed to, how we eat, what we eat and how we hydrate.

“The negative ions in sea air are an important part of this. These ions reduce inflammation, which helps to remove free radicals. They also promote better communication along the neurons as they enhance the electrical stimulation of the brain.

“Put quite simply, being by the sea really does benefit our brain.”

Other seaside health benefits

Being by the sea makes you happy

A 2013 study of 10,000 people on happiness in natural environments found marine and coastal locations to be our happiest places by a large margin.

“We find people who visit the coast at least twice-weekly tend to experience better general and mental health,” Dr Lewis Elliott, from the University of Exeter told The Guardian. “Some of our research suggests around two hours a week is probably beneficial, across many sectors of society.” He added that even sea views have been associated with better mental health.

The Victorians thought the sea air was so good that it was prescribed as a treatment for conditions including tuberculosis. More recently, seaside fans have dubbed the health benefits of our coastlines as ‘Vitamin Sea’ and the sea-derived spa treatment Thalassotherapy, which began in the 19th century is still very popular now.

A coastal walk has extra health benefits

Research has suggested that even a short coastal walk can boost your mood and Dr Taylor says that combining exercise and sea air means we can enjoy additional health benefits.

Dr Taylor said: “The sea air really helps us to breathe better. The benefits of breathing in sea air whilst exercising can include improved lung function, reduced coughing, decreased sinus pressure and thinner mucus.”

A close up of someone's feet walking through the sandCredit: Shutterstock /SlavaSakhalin
Walking barefoot can help your circadian rhythm

Go barefoot in the sand to get the benefits

Dr Taylor also urges anyone walking on our coastline to go barefoot on sandy beaches.

She says: “The beach is a great place to ground and earth your circadian rhythm, your body’s 24-hour cycle.

“Feeling the sand beneath your feet and between your toes reduces inflammation in the brain and body, plus it helps connect the earth with the 7,000 nerve endings you have in your feet.”

If you’ve been inspired to explore the UK’s beaches and enjoy these extra brain boosts, then try one of our eight best coastal walks.

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Dr Taylor collaborated with the British outdoor retailer TOG24, which is supporting the King Charles III England Coastal Path due to be completed next year. The new trail will be the longest-managed coastal path in the UK at 2,700 miles and will go all the way around the coast of England.

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Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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