09 Jun 8 Reasons Why Being In, On or Around Water Makes You Feel So Good
You know the feeling. You’ve just come out of the water after an amazing surf, salt drops dripping from your eyelashes, a smile stretched across your face, and you feel… Euphoric. Or maybe it was a quick dip after work, and now all the stresses of your day have been washed away… Why does being in water make us feel so good?
Turns out, there’s a whole lot going on inside our bodies when we jump in the sea (or any body of water for that matter). From the neurotransmitters in our brain to the hormones coursing through our blood, water has a profound effect on us both physiologically and emotionally.
We took a deep dive into the intriguing science behind surfer’s stoke – and here’s what we found.
By Lily Plume
1. We experience water with all of our senses
Water impacts all five senses at the same time, giving us a totally immersive experience. Imagine you’re swimming in a quiet bay. The water feels cool against your skin, trickling and rippling as you move. There’s a salty tang in the air, which you can taste as you breathe it in. Maybe you can smell seaweed. The scene is awash with greens and blues, and you watch the sunlight dance across the water’s surface. We can’t think of a more relaxing place to be.
2. Water triggers our parasympathetic nervous system
Water has a powerful physiological effect on your body – so much so that even drinking a glass of water can calm your nerves. This is because water triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s ‘rest and digest’ response. In this state, your heart rate and blood pressure lowers, your digestion is stimulated and your body is able to relax. Next time you’re out wild swimming, see if you can tune into this state and feel how your body relaxes.
3. The colour blue is therapeutic
As you watch the ocean waves and their shifting shades of blues, their light waves are working their magic on you. The colour blue is known to have a calming, relaxing yet energising effect on our minds and bodies, due to its specific wavelength. Another reason why the colour soothes us so, some scientists say, is because we evolved on a planet that is mostly water and sky blue. Now we know why our shoulders instantly drop at the sight of the ocean.
4. The ocean creates soothing “pink noise”
The soft sighs of waves washing the shore, the hiss of pebbles being pulled back by the tide… The sounds that water makes in these natural settings fall into the category of “pink noise”. Similar to white noise but smoother and more soothing, pink noise is an ongoing, nondescript sound that equally combines all the sound frequencies a human ear can hear. Studies have discovered that pink noise can help you sleep better as it helps to reduce brain wave activity. Can we make beach naps a thing?
5. We have an innate connection with natural environments
As a species, we’ve spent many more millions of years living on open savannahs and empty shorelines than we have in our concrete jungles of today. So it makes sense that when we find ourselves in these natural environments, we instantly feel at ease. In 1984, biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson coined the term “biophilia” to describe his theory that humans have an instinctive bond with nature ingrained in our genes. Anyone who’s paddled up the Gannel will know how soothing it feels to be surrounded by the river’s natural beauty.
6. Immersion in water balances our hormones
Ever wonder why swimming underwater makes you feel so zen? It’s all down to a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones responsible for our ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Catecholamines are produced by the adrenal glands when you’re physically or emotionally stressed, increasing your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate. When you’re immersed in water, your body sends out signals to change the balance of catecholamines, a level that’s similar to the balance found when you’re meditating or relaxing. So when you’re swimming, you’re basically meditating underwater… right?
7. Surfing sparks a positive chemical reaction inside our bodies
When it comes to surfing, there’s even more at play. As the wave surges beneath your feet, a cascade of chemicals courses through your body. There’s the burst of dopamine, aka the “feel-good” hormone, sparked by the novelty of each passing wave. You also get a rush of endorphins as a result of doing aerobic exercise, giving you that ecstatic feeling known as runner’s high. Now you know the science behind the stoke, your next surf will be even more awesome.
8. Breaking waves release negative ions
You know that blissed-out feeling you get after a day in the surf? Well, some scientists reckon that’s down to sea spray. When a wave breaks, the turbulence it creates is said to alter the physical structure of the water and air. The water and air molecules are broken apart, releasing negative ions into the atmosphere. Some research suggests that these ions can even increase the circulation of oxygen in our bodies and boost our mood. The evidence is by no means conclusive, but we still think that breathing in salty air does us the world of good.
Even without scientific studies, we all know how amazing it feels to be immersed in water. Whether it’s a two hour surf at our favourite break, a cruisey stand-up paddle session or a quick dip in a freshwater lake, there’s nothing like a bit of cold water to blow away the cobwebs.
Don’t just take our word for it – come and experience the healing powers of water for yourself at our next Water Women Weekend on the 28th and 29th June! Whether you’re already a water baby or you’re looking to dip your toe in for the first time, you’ll reconnect with nature by wild swimming, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding to your heart’s content. Check out this page for all the details!