A Walk on the Beach – Health Benefits & Pitfalls

Taking a walk on the beach is a great opportunity to get some exercise.

It seems a harmless activity but there are dangers that can be easily navigated if you are aware of them and take some sensible precautions.

Some people are lucky and live near the sea and so can take a walk on the beach every day for their walking exercise. Other people live too far away to do it regularly but take the opportunity when on vacation or on a day out to the seaside.

The seaside brings images of sun and sea and smells of ozone and fish and chips down Brighton Pier, but it also harbors dangers as well as enhanced benefits from walking as an exercise point of view.

If you are near the beach anytime, take the opportunity for a walk in the sand and achieve more in less time. You'll achieve more because of the extra idfficulty and muscles you need to walk in sand compared to normal walking.

The Dangers of Walking on the Beach

The Tide

The sea is a tidal body of water and tides vary greatly from beach to beach. Most of the time the tide is not going to be a huge issue unless you are going on long beach walks in unfamiliar places.

In some places, the tide can be extremely high such as the Bay of Fundy, Ungava Bay & Skookumchuck Narrows in Canada, King Sound in Western Australia and Severn Estuary in the UK. But the tide is not likely to outrun you unless you get trapped by the land topography.

If the route you take is unfamiliar take care to make sure the tide will not cut you off. This can happen quite easily where the beach runs in coves or where there is a difference in height across your route.

The problem is made worse when water can become quite fast flowing if funneled by the land shape, making being cut off a potentially deadly event.

If you are not walking along a straight beach with easy access away from the sea, ask locals before embarking on a long walk.

Flip Flops Good for Short Walks on the Beach
Flip Flops Good for Short Walks on the Beach

The Sun

A walk on the beach can become a precursor to pain in the evening if you are not aware of the danger of sunburn.

Walking along the sea water's edge or on white sands will intensify the sun’s rays and cause sunburn much more rapidly than away from these reflections.

Apart from this, you may well be wearing less protective clothing than normal and there are serious dangers of sunstroke if you do not wear a hat and are out walking for a while.

You can protect yourself against sunburn by using a good quality sunscreen with an appropriate sun protection factor.

I always apply SPF 50 sunscreen regardless as sunburn can result in skin cancer so I’d rather err on the side of caution for myself and especially the children.

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The Wind

The wind is also a concern although there is some argument about its contribution to sunburn. Windburn is the word given to people who attribute strong wind to skin soreness which is actually more likely to be sunburn that happens even though it may be cloudy or cool.

The outer layers of the skin form some protection against sunburn from pigmentation etc., but a strong wind can cause the skin to dry out, crack and peel. Wind will blow off this dry skin removing some of the skin’s natural (but weak) protection against the effects of the sun.

Sunscreen applied to the skin forms a layer on the outer layer of skin and will be taken away if the skin flakes.

You can read more on this subject at skincancer.org.

So now you have a double reason to apply sunscreen because the seaside is often a very windy place. I particularly like this quality sunscreen for my family because it is inexpensive, soaks in quickly and is perfect to last for a moderate walk.

Picture of sharp coral and shell
Coral is Sharp

Crustaceans, Glass & Other Sharp Objects

The next danger that can present itself is sharp objects hidden in the sand.

Sadly, people are not all that responsible these days and glass and other sharp objects including needles and sharp stones can be hidden under the soft sand surfaces.

If that isn’t enough there can sometimes be stinging creatures in the sand or crabs or other crustaceans that can bite or have spines.

Whilst that is pretty scary, you should also be aware that there are many beaches where hookworms are present. These nasty critters burrow into your skin and attempt to make their way into your intestines. As one unlucky couple found out these can cause serious problems.

Don’t turn a walk on the beach into a nightmare wear shoes!

One good tip is to take a pair of worn sneakers when walking on the beach as the soles will protect you from hidden sharp objects and support your feet better while walking in the sand. The downside is they will get full of sand which you may have a hard time getting rid of – hence bring trainers that are nearing the end of their life that you won't mind getting a bit sandy.

We also use water shoes when we go to the beach because they are made to get wet. They are washable, are happy to get soaked and dry out quickly. You can check out our reviews of various types of water shoes here.

We love these slip-on Crocs for women, these for your guy and these for the kids. If you want something more stylish then try these excellent beach sandals from Keen.

Crocs for Walking on the Sand
Crocs for Walking on the Sand

Walking on the Beach Can Increase Some Foot Issues

If you suffer from arthritis or knee pain or hips or maybe back pain, then walking on the beach can aggravate these conditions because of the extra strain walking in sand puts on your body.

You can avoid this most easily by minimizing the distance walked on soft sand and head to the edge of the water where the sand is firmer. It need not be very wet but you are likely to encounter some rivulets of water draining out to sea if the tide is going out.

If it’s coming in then your feet will likely get wet since the wet sand will be nearest the water’s edge and wave action will either have you running in and out to stay on wet sand or the sea will wash over you.

It is a good idea to use shoes that will not get damaged from getting soaked. I

The Benefits of a Walk on the Beach

Fresh Air

The jury may be out on this fact but I am a firm believer that sea air is good for you unless you are at a port or pier where there is a lot of diesel-belching marine traffic.

You have probably noticed a distinctly more calm mood after a walk on the beach during your trip to the seaside and perhaps it is the mood enhancing rhythm of the waves, the cleaner air than you are used to in the cities or something else. One thing is for certain – people who live near the sea tend to live longer than city dwellers (Source).

Change of Scene

A walk on the beach, for most of us, will give us something entirely different to look at than we are used to.

It’s inviting to walk down by the water’s edge and paddle in the edge of the waves as they break on the beach.

So if you are on vacation you have an automatic incentive to get up a little earlier for your morning constitutional or perhaps an evening stroll watching the sun set behind distant hills.

The fact that the sea is flat will mean that you can get a great view of the sun sinking down below the horizon if the beach faces west. You may even be able to see the famous green flash as you walk along the sands.

Mum & Son Nordic Walking on the beach
Nordic Walking on the Beach

By the way, if you are interested in Nordic Walking then you might like to check out our Ultimate Beginners Guide to Nordic Walking. It's another cool way to up the calorie burn rates pretty much effortlessly.

Higher Calorie Burn Rate

Walking on the beach in softer sand will increase your calorie burn rate over walking on regular surfaces. It is estimated that the increase can be between 20 to 50% more than regular walking exercise.

Your feet and leg muscles have to work substantially harder to move your feet in and out of the sand and for this reason, use up more energy.

You will find yourself a bit sore in the muscles and maybe joints, tendons and back too if you overdo soft sand walking so unless you are used to it, take it easy at first and move to the damper sand near the water’s edge if you start to get fatigued.

Also, don’t try to walk too fast as even a slower pace can use up more calories though you will be getting less aerobic exercise as a by-product.

You can even up the ante further by trying a bit of Nordic walking on the beach. The extra upper body exertion will further increase calorie burn rate and semi-firm sand is a good place to practice this form of walking.

Walking on the Beach is Relaxing

Touching on the point I made above about fresh air, walking on the beach is definitely a relaxing pastime.

Just being by the sea is relaxing and gives you more incentive to keep going. You’ll be less likely to be bored and more likely to walk further, especially if you are sharing the experience with a loved one.

Not only do you get the benefit of healthy exercise and some fresh air but you get a better mood and all the benefits those released endorphins provide.

Less Shock Impact on the Joints

One of the problems with people who walk a lot in poor quality shoes is the shock on their joints, especially in the knees and feet.

Walking in sand produces much less impact than walking on concrete and so there is less shock on the joints.

Whilst there is less shock there is more effort required and so I reiterate that you should not overdo it. This is particularly so if you take off in one direction and become tired because you may underestimate the effort required for the return journey.

Don’t forget, time passes quickly having fun, which you will be doing exploring in the outward leg but coming back may end up being further than you anticipated. So the danger of over-stressing your body as buses are hard to come by on most beaches for a hitch back!

Health Benefits from Sunlight

I have mentioned the damage the sun can do to your skin and the dangers of skin cancer but don’t forget none of us would be here without the sun.

Your body needs Vitamin D and sunlight is one of the rare sources for your body. You will soak up the sun’s rays like a Californian orange but just keep the timing right so you don’t actually turn orange!

Vitamin D is very important to your body but you don't need to be out in the sun for too long. Since the skin on your face is more delicate than on arms and legs it makes sense to cover up your face under a wide-brimmed hat (suitably secured against the wind blowing it off).

Extra Fitness

The added calorie burn and stronger workout on your muscles as they drag your legs in and out of the sand will burn those calories quicker and in doing so burn off fat and tone your muscles.

You get the benefit of a better workout in a shorter time and more pleasant surroundings than normal.

As long as you pace yourself properly and take the precautions outlined here then your walk on the beach should be a pleasant, mood enhancing and fulfilling way to get a dose of daily exercise.

A family walking on the beach
Beach Walking – A Great Time for the Family

A Great Way to Spend Time with The Family

Lastly, I wanted to add the benefits of spending time with the family.

Pretty much everyone will agree to go for a walk on the beach – you might even be able to persuade some teenagers to tag along with you.

In this era, many families just do not get the time to spend together because of work commitments and also because society has changed as technology has provided a never-ending source of interest or obsession that is preferred to having a conversation or playing games.

Take the opportunity when away to get out with the family and reconnect with conversation as you walk on the beach. It's awesome!

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