What Are the Health Benefits of Surfing for the Mind and Body?
Surfing is a sport that has been around since the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until Tom Blake invented the modern surfboard that it began to pick up in the USA. Since then, seeing people battle it out on the waves — while trying not to get swept away by the currents — has become a celebrated activity. And while the thrill is what attracts most surfers to the game, surfing has also become something akin to meditation — a practice that helps them feel one with nature and in tune with themselves.
Boasting tons of mental and physical benefits, it’s no wonder that surfing has become more and more popular. In fact, it’s even making its Olympic debut at the 2020 Games.
Interested to be a part of a literal wave? Here are some of the physical and mental health benefits of surfing.
As mentioned, meditation can take many forms, and it doesn’t always involve sitting in a quiet room alone. Any form of activity which allows its participant to enter what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state — or when you’re so immersed that you lose track of time — is a viable form of meditation. Surfing puts you in this specific zone where you have no choice but to concentrate unless you want to be thrown off-board.
Sometimes there’s nothing quite like getting that surfer’s high.
In general, exercise is great for providing a burst of endorphins. “Endorphins are neurochemicals produced in the body in the pituitary gland in response to stress and pain,” says sports psychologist Dr. Kip Matthews. In simpler words, they act like natural painkillers, which explains why it can get “addicting” over time. Similar to other activities like meditation, laughing, and eating chocolate, surfing can trigger the release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and induce positive emotions. This can then help combat stress and anxiety while improving overall mental health.
Healthy Coping Mechanism
In life, we go through waves of ups and downs. While surfing involves riding literal waves, surfers are able to apply the same attitude and outlook to real life. In other words, there’s science behind their culture of “Shaka” and stoke. According to psychologists from Maryville University, there are guiding principles that contextualize human behaviors, which in turn develop a form of self-awareness. This implies that the lessons you absorb through activities help you cope with real-life situations. For instance, researchers from the UK’s national health service conducted a surfing program with patients suffering from depression and schizophrenia. After a few weeks of surfing, the participants reported significant improvements in self-esteem, mood, and their ability to “have fun.”
Surfing, similar to swimming and running, is primarily a cardiovascular sport. Every time surfers paddle towards the point where they’re short on breath, it really gets their heart pumping. Over time, this lowers their blood pressure and resting heart rate—the two things that can decrease the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. As a bonus, cardio is also the fastest way to burn some excess fat.
Cold Water Therapy
Regularly being submerged in cold water has a ton of benefits. For one, cold water stimulates the circulatory system, which helps relieve tension, headaches, and muscle discomfort. A study conducted by researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University even indicates how cold water triggers the brain’s “blue spot,” thus releasing a chemical that could help mitigate depression. Whether it’s temporary relief or an extra boost of energy, the ocean water can only be good for you.
Surfing may not be the easiest sport to learn. After all, it takes time, commitment, and patience to progress. However, once you get started — even if you’re only doing it as a hobby — the rewards are well worth it.