Swimming in the sea could be a safe form of exercise that benefits your mind and body

Shortly before lockdown began, we reported that swimming in chlorinated pools was thought to be a pretty safe way to exercise during a pandemic.

The Pool Water Treatment and Advisory Group (PWTAG) said: ‘Public health opinion is that it is generally safe to go swimming (during the pandemic)’ and that as long as people showered before and after and generally observed the necessary hygiene precautions, ‘water and the chlorine within swimming pools will help to kill the virus’.

And now, a virology professor has warned that swimming in the sea is safer than lounging on the beach.

Professor John Ball appeared on yesterday’s This Morning to explain that ‘viruses don’t like seawater’ and that once public pools are back open, chlorine has an ‘incredibly effective’ way of killing viruses.

‘Intuitively, you’d think it was quite risky (to visit the seaside), because you’re essentially bathing on other people’s germs,’ he said.

‘But we know viruses don’t like sea water, or water, for a start that much anyway and if pools are open we know the chlorine is an incredibly effective way of killing that virus.’ 

However, he was quick to warn that people should avoid touching contaminated surfaces such as public loos and handles and that social distancing should still be observed. Being outdoors, he advised, was ‘better’ than being indoors but it’s still possible to become infected with the virus if you’re sitting too close to someone with it.

Importantly, seaside councils have begged visitors to stay away after hot weather saw loads of us flocking to beaches in Southend, Brighton and other beach resorts.

Why being in blue spaces make us feel so much happier

We know that access to green space can have a massively positive impact on our mental health, but so can spending time near water.

Blue space – the coast, rivers, lakes, canals, even fountains – have been shown to improve our health, body and mind. Proximity to water and especially the sea has been associated with lots of benefits, including higher levels of vitamin D.

A 2013 study on happiness in natural environments got 20,000 smartphone users to record their sense of wellbeing and their immediate environment at random intervals.

Marine and coastal environments were found to be by far the happiest locations – approximately six points higher than urban ones, which researchers equated to being ‘the difference between attending an exhibition and doing housework’.

So potent is the feel-good factor of water that another 2010 study found that built-up environments that contain water are just as positive as areas of totally green open space.

There are lots of reasons why that may be. Aquatic environments may have less polluted air and more sunlight. Living near the coast may prompt people to be more physically active too – walking, cycling, running, doing water sports.

Blue is a restorative colour too, so being near water may be more effective at reducing negative mood and stress than green spaces. The ebb and flow of waves may help take us out of ourselves – finding peace in nature and disrupting depressive thinking patterns. Immersing ourselves in water really forces us to think about something other than us; to stay afloat, you’ve got to be in touch with your surroundigns.

If you do go to the beach, however, maybe think about going to swim primarily – and use your garden, balcony or local green space to do your sunbathing.

If it’s not worth schlepping to the coast for a 30-minute swim, it’s probably best to leave it until local authorities have announced that they’re open for visitors.

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