Beaches can Benefit your Health, too

September 28, 2012
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By American Shore & Beach Preservation Association

Eight-six years ago, the founders of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) recognized that, with growth in the country’s urban population and the increased leisure time becoming available to that group, the recreational opportunities that America’s beaches afford must be protected.

We were right. Today more than 50 percent of Americans live within 50 miles of the coast, be it Atlantic, Pacific, Great Lakes or Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the majority of us live in urban areas.

Recreational opportunities are even more important today than they were eight decades ago. More and more Americans have sedentary occupations; many of our leisure pursuits, including watching sports and digital gaming, are not physical. About one-third of today’s population is obese, and recent studies predict that obesity rates will climb to a minimum of 44 percent in every state – with 13 states projected to have obesity rates of 60 percent by 2030. This will cause health care costs of obesity-related diseases to skyrocket by billions of dollars.

Other research has shown that physical activity is an important component to both losing weight and maintaining that loss. Clearly enjoying the activity means we will do it more often, and variety also keeps us moving. So beaches can be part of the solution.

Sure, many people find a spot on the beach and plop down, not bothering to move until the sun forces them to roll over or seek shade. But many other beachgoers are active – swimming, walking, running, playing. Just as there are myriad reasons to go to the beach, there are myriad things to do once you get there.

Some beaches (like those in Southern California) have multi-use paths running along them where cyclists, skaters, skateboarders and runners recreate. Other quiet beaches (say, Assategue Island in Maryland) allow only swimming, walking and running. Still others (perhaps Miami-Dade County beaches) have sailing, windsurfing and parasailing. Oregon coast beaches include climbing and hiking among their many attractions. Then you have the lakefront in Chicago, where an entire city comes to play in miles of coastal park preserved just for this purpose – and where the attractions are as diverse as the city dwellers themselves.

Many beaches in areas as different as New Jersey, South Carolina, California and Hawaii are popular surfing spots. Boogie boarding is popular in many places including South Padre Island, Texas. Frisbee tossing is popular nearly everywhere as is running, walking and swimming. There are even beaches that allow us to exercise with our dogs.

One of the reasons we have the number of public beaches we have is due to requirements included with federal, state and local funding for beach restoration projects. These regulations are based on the premise that, if the people’s money is going to be used for projects, the people need the opportunity to enjoy those projects. Communities have opened or improved public access to their beaches in order to increase the level of public funding – for which the public benefits.

During hurricane season, we tend to focus on the critical need for storm protection for our coastal communities and the resulting important benefits of protecting lives, jobs and property. That is appropriate.

We must not forget, however, that Americans can be healthier if they go to the beach, and that continuing to provide the American public access to their coast is an unparalleled recreational opportunity with big benefits to health as well.


American Shore & Beach Preservation Association was founded in 1926. It promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America.

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