Why we like to be beside the seaside and how it can help our wellbeing

We all feel better for a trip to the seaside, but a new study may reveal just how a nostalgic trip to the beach can support personal wellbeing, including in older people.

A team at the University of Central Lancashire is about to begin the second phase of a study that seeks to explain the benefits of days out on the coast and measure how long those benefits last.

Dr Sean Gammon, a senior lecturer at Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, is following up on the school’s earlier research, which showed a fascinating but unexplained connection between trips to a traditional seaside resort and increased wellbeing.

He said: “A colleague left questionnaires around Morecambe; at the hotel, coffee shop and around the beach. They were intrigued to see why, when in modern terms, there is not a great deal to do in the resort, people were always visiting the town.”

The survey results were, where possible, followed up with more in-depth interview. What was revealed was that nostalgia is important to us and keeps us coming back to seaside towns we have loved in the past. However, we can only derive benefit from that nostalgia if we talk about our experiences and we tap into the feelings we had when we were younger.

Dr Gammon added: “The evidence suggests that tapping into our younger selves, our feelings and actions, is good for our mental wellbeing. It can also generate feelings of renewed optimism. This is important, as a lack of optimism in our future can lead to depression and it is not uncommon in older people.

“The seaside is interesting because, no matter how we or the place have changed or how much time has passed, the view out to sea is usually the same. The same is true of the feeling of sand between our toes.”

The second, five-month long stage of the study will see participants completing subjective wellbeing indices – questionnaires which map levels of happiness, feelings of satisfaction with life and feelings of psychological well-being or ‘flourishing’. These surveys will be completed before and after a trip to the seaside. The participants will then take part in in-depth, follow-up interviews, which may reveal more about the process of how active nostalgia helps benefit us years after our original outing.

Dr Gammon said: “We live in an ever-changing present, which can sometimes make people feel anxious. Seaside memories are the perfect antidote to that and we hope the study will explain just how that antidote works. We hope that knowledge will go on to support people living with various conditions, including potentially dementia, as well as encouraging people to visit the seaside resorts of their youth to support their wellbeing.”

Many of Care UK’s 114 homes arrange trips out to the seaside for residents. Popular activities include a stroll along the prom, eating ice creams and of course, tucking in to fish and chips. As well as providing a great day out, the trips help spark all kinds of memories and lead to lively conversations when everyone returns home.