A prescription of sea air

body of water beside beach sand

“Why can’t I find a doctor who will prescribe ‘sea air’ for my nerves so l can spend a summer in a picturesque costal town in England ‘for my health’ only to be caught up in a local scandal and forced to solve a murder???”

That tweet made me actually laugh out loud. And it also got me thinking…

There were many maladies in the 18th and 19th centuries that needed curing. Tuberculosis of course, but also melancholy, tics, fever, even stupidity. If you’ve ever read any Jane Austen novels, you’ll already know that a catch-all cure for all of the above was sea air. Doctors really did prescribe it, and the odd thing is, it sort of worked.

Firstly, it removed people from the polluted air of town. Secondly, I assume it was a sort of vacation for them and aren’t we all much more relaxed and likely to heal when we’re on vacation? But I think there’s more to it.

I live quite close to the beach. In fact, on quiet mornings I can hear the waves. There is something immensely soothing and invigorating about the sound of it. And when I go the water, the endless blue ocean calms me like nothing else. And it’s not just me. A 2013 study in England found that people who live near the coast have better mental health than those inland.

But what exactly is it about the sea air? A deep breath by the ocean is indeed different than a deep breath elsewhere. Sea air has a very high salt content, which makes it thicker. This thick air can help to clear the throat and respiratory system. In fact, people with cystic fibrosis can now be prescribed a sort of salty inhaler, precisely because they reported breathing better after surfing, which led to further investigations.

And there’s more. The air around the ocean contains high concentrations of negative ions. Now, when I first read that I said, much like you are surely about to say, “What kind of nonsense is this?” But then I looked into it.

Negative ions are indeed a thing. And they’ve been known about and researched for a surprisingly long time. They’re actually one of the things that you measure in order to assess air quality! So, what exactly are they and what do they do?

Negative ions are molecules floating in the air that have been charged with electricity. The ocean waves crashing into each other creates this (thunderstorms and waterfalls, too). Negative ions indoors can purify the air by removing particulate matter (dust, mold spores and other allergens). And down at the beach, being exposed to negative ions can change amino acid metabolism in our bodies, which basically manifests as less inflammation. This can reduce symptoms of depression, help regulate sleep, kill off bad bacteria and boost immunity.

So next time you find yourself not feeling too great, perhaps a prescription of sea air is indeed what you need. As for the local scandal and being forced to solve a murder? One can only dream.

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