Do you feel like a dip in the ocean or a hike near a waterfall could ease any bad mood? The beauty of nature does tend to provide a welcome distraction from whatever is stressing us out. And when you’re ducking under waves and listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean crashing on the shoreline, it can feel like all of your problems are far from your mind. But is it really just the natural beauty of our environment that seems to wipe away all of the tension? Or is there something else at play here?
As it turns out, there might be a deeper reason as to why a swim in the ocean can put a smile on your face when you’re feeling down. This is because during those beach excursions, you’re exposed to negative ions—which, funnily enough, seem to make us feel a bit more positive.
What are negative ions?
These are molecules that have been charged with electricity, having unequal numbers of electrons and protons. And the current research on negative ions indicates that exposure to these ions can have some beneficial effects.
So, exactly where can you get some exposure to negative ions in nature? They exist within ultraviolet rays from the sun. Negative ions also form with when electric discharges occur in the air —basically, in the aftermath of a lightning strike or thunderclap. They are also produced when water collides with itself. This means that whenever you’re standing in the rain, near a waterfall, or swimming in the ocean, you’re experiencing the effects of negative ions! And finally, negative ions are also produced when plants grow. Overall, you can feel the effects of negative ions when you’re out in nature. And it’s especially noticeable when you’re spending a sunny afternoon at the beach!
Benefits of Negative Ions
How do negative ions affect your mood? Perhaps you’ve felt it while swimming under the spray of a waterfall, or during a beach day with friends. Or maybe there’s something about a thunderstorm that makes you feel refreshed and alive. As it turns out, you’re not just imagining that mood boost—the science actually backs you up.
Researchers have found that exposure to negative ions has a variety of health benefits, particularly to your mental health. For instance, scientists have found that people who are struggling with chronic depression may feel some temporary relief from their symptoms after long exposure to negative ions. While a brief stroll on the beach might not be enough, a few hours would likely have a positive effect. Researchers have also found that people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can reap the benefits of even less exposure. A mere thirty minutes by the water is enough for people to feel a noticeable mood boost.
In addition to temporarily alleviating symptoms of depression, exposure to negative ions has also been shown to reduce general feelings of stress and help you sleep at night.
A 2015 study found that being in a negative-ion environment improved the subjects’ cognitive performance and cardiovascular function. (The study found no effects on well-being and lung function.)
Boosting the immune system & antimicrobial activity
They can even give your immune system a minor boost! A 2018 meta study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that negative-ion exposure boosts immune function and kills or inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and mold, including E. coli, staphylococcus aureus, and more. We’ll take it!
How to get the benefits
A beach day or a hike around a waterfall is not an instant panacea. But if you feel like you’ve been under a lot of stress lately (and haven’t we all?), it’s not a bad idea to head to your nearest body of water.
Of course, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s very important to take precautions while spending time outdoors if you’ll be near other people. If you’re headed to the beach, don’t park yourself right next to another family. Aim to put six feet between yourself and other beachgoers! Be careful not to bump into other hikers if you’re out on the trail. It doesn’t hurt to pack a mask and some hand sanitizer just in case. You’ll need them if you plan to stop somewhere for snacks or to use a public bathroom.
Do ionizers work?
You may find “ionizer devices” while online shopping, but pay them no mind. Companies may claim that using one of these devices will give you the same benefits of outdoor exposure to negative ions. However, current research does not support this. And yes, Himalayan salt lamps can be very pretty to look at and definitely add a little ambiance to any room. Just beware of any companies making claims about negative ions being produced by these lamps! The research doesn’t back it up. Save your money and spend some time outside instead! There’s no replacement for the real thing.
Negative ions may not be miracle cures. But spending a little more time outside can often turn a bad day around. The next time you feel a bit happier and lighter after a day at the beach, you’ll know why!
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