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Research shows we’re all stressed out and in need of a vacation. And, it seems, a cruise is one of the best ways to recharge the batteries thanks to growing evidence of the healing power of the sea

Written by

Francesca Syz

Francesca Syz

Published on 05/30/2024


It’s official, a relaxing holiday is good for you, offering a mental, physical, and even spiritual boost. We're clearly all in need of a break; according to The American Institute of Stress, 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress at a cost of $300bn per year to industry, and analytics company Gallup reports that almost half of all Americans frequently experience stress.

While the mental and physical benefits of spending time in the countryside are well documented (it is said to reduce stress, lift spirits, and keep the blood pumping) the benefits of water – being in it, on it or near it – are only now being truly recognized. A growing body of scientific research suggests time spent in “blue space” is even more beneficial than being surrounded by green nature.

“Ten years ago, people rolled their eyes at the idea that water is important for our cognitive, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing,” says Wallace J Nichols, marine biologist and author of Blue Mind, a groundbreaking book about the healing power of the sea.

“They don’t roll their eyes anymore. There is enough science to show that water, in all its forms, helps us relax and achieve a sense of calm, boosts our creativity, connects us to each other, to ourselves, to nature and gives us a whole bunch of other emotional wellness benefits that follow from feeling calmer.”

So, there has never been a better excuse to take a cruise. As well as the obvious benefits of relaxing on deck while your luxurious ship delivers you from one amazing destination to the next, providing enriching experiences along the way, now we know that being surrounded by ocean has positive physical effects.

For one, the pressures of everyday life often result in elevated levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine, which suppress the immune system. A holiday at sea offers the chance to breathe fresh, largely unpolluted air, which aids sleep and energy levels. Also, the sea’s crashing waves drench the air with negatively charged ions. A report in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that the presence of ions improves psychological health, productivity and overall wellbeing.

Elsewhere, two researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California in San Diego, followed the path of nitrogen oxides from the skies of Los Angeles to the surface of the ocean off San Diego, where air pollution tends to drift. They discovered that, at night, the ocean acts as an air filter for these nitrogen oxides, absorbing pollutants from the atmosphere that create the global-warming agent ozone, providing a vital buffer against the impact of climate change.

Data from the United Nations is even more illuminating, claiming the ocean generates 50% of the oxygen we need, absorbs 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions, and captures about 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions.

Meanwhile, Catherine Schmitt, science writer and author of A Coastal Companion: A Year in the Gulf of Maine from Cape Cod to Canada, says: “Just looking at the ocean activates opiate receptors in the brain, releasing dopamine and its rush of reward. According to research, experiencing the wonder of natural beauty might actually decrease the inflammation that contributes to heart failure, depression and autoimmune disease.”

Getting in the water is good for you, too. Swim in the sea on a port day and you’ll not only engage in powerful, endorphin-releasing, aerobic exercise, which raises your breathing and heart rate, flooding your body with fresh oxygen and keeping your heart and lungs healthy, you’ll also reap the rewards of salt water. It is rich in minerals including magnesium, potassium and iodine, which, collectively, have a calming effect on your nervous system, are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and reduce inflammation. Even the weightlessness experienced when floating in the pool onboard will have a calming effect.

Added to this are the benefits of “awe”, of which water is a top source on Earth. Awe moves us emotionally to consider our part in something greater and is believed to encourage social interaction, bringing individuals closer to each other, and make us more generous, empathetic and compassionate. Water, in all its forms, is a top source of awe on Earth and what could be more awe-inspiring than being surrounded by endless blue ocean?

“A cruise is unlike any other holiday,” says Nichols. “Seeing the geography, noticing where you are in a vast body of water. It can give you a bit of perspective on the things that are bearing down on you. People go to the edge of the boat and it can make them feel small and insignificant, but also makes their problems seem even smaller.”

It seems your next cruise won’t just deliver fantastic ports of call and onboard facilities but could provide the perfect opportunity to hit that personal reset button.

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