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Surfing: The 'miraculous' treatment no doctor has ever prescribed. Until now.

Could the ocean hold the answer to your chronic pain and health problems?

Biarritz is a small city on the southwest coast of France, flanked by the Bay of Biscay.

Known as the "Queen of the Basque Coast," it's a place rich with history, garnished with old-timey charm, and highlighted by sunbathed sandy beaches.


Image via NormanEinstein/Wikimedia Commons.

For centuries, Biarritz has been a destination for believers in the healing power of its seawater.

They call it thalassothérapie. (Sorry, buckaroos, no lassos involved.) It's a derivative of the Greek words for sea (thálassa) and therapy (therapeía), and people flock to Biarritz's beaches, spas, and treatment centers for a sprinkle of that sweet ocean magic.

Photo by Iroz Gaizka/AFP/Getty Images.

But in the 1960s, a radical (in the slangiest sense of the word) new benefit of Biarritz's waters was discovered: surfing.

With a swell just right for almost any skill level, Biarritz has become one of the top surf destinations in Europe.

This guy found the fountain of youth. It's called the ocean. Photo by Kevin Cole/Flickr.

Today, an experimental health initiative in Biarritz, created by France's Olympic committee, is keeping in the town's tradition of looking to the ocean for good health.

Biarritz doctors are piloting a program that lets them prescribe water sports for chronic health issues.

Yes, with a script reading "catch some waves" from one of roughly 20 participating physicians, patients are taking four-month lessons in surfing, paddleboarding, swimming, and other lower-intensity ocean aerobics.

A paddleboard lesson in Portugal. A French surf instructor would obviously be wearing a beret, not a fedora. Photo by Karma Surf Retreat/Flickr.

Nicolas Guillet, one of the program's organizers, is confident it's working. "After six months, the results are already positive in our eyes," he told Nouvel Observateur. Most patients, he says, complete the program and continue the sport on a regular basis.

The doctors say ocean sports amp up our health in a lot of different ways.

For starters, you get to play in the sun! Guillaume Barucq, a physician involved in the program, says the sun helps our bodies make vitamin D, which protects against cancer, diabetes, and lots of other health problems. (Obligatory PSA: Always wear sunscreen!)

Photo by Dawn Ellner/Flickr.

Barucq, an avid surfer, calls the program "miraculous." He says ocean sports can improve blood flow, build core and extremity strength, and relieve pain.

One patient described her treatment as "revolutionary." She's a 40-year-old woman who presented with a decade of chronic back pain. And after only six months of stand-up paddleboard lessons, she was all but cured of her pain.

There are psychological benefits to being in the ocean, too. Barucq says breaking waters (e.g., waterfalls, waves, and even showers) release negative ions into the air, which can improve our moods — or get us "stoked," as surfers might say.

While the research on negative ions isn't settled, it does weigh on the side of, well, the positive. A 2013 study found that negative air ion treatments significantly reduced the severity of mood disorder symptoms and boosted the moods of healthy subjects.

The pilot program in Biarritz is especially promising because it could change France's tendency to overmedicate.

Photo by Charles Williams/Flickr.

"It's also about enacting cultural change in a country where 90% of patients who come out of the doctor's surgery do so with a medical prescription," said Barucq.

Even better? The program doesn't cost the French social security system a penny ... or centime, anyway.

It's fully funded by the town of Biarritz, with support from a few health associations and a mere 10 euros (just under $11) per patient — a pill most health consumers can swallow.

With global health care costs on the rise, hopefully the world is taking notes from "The Queen of the Basque Coast." The ocean — and nature in general — may not be a total cure-all, but it's clearly worth a regular dose.

via The Ohio Department of Health

UPDATE: Back in April, Ohio was leading the way of conservative leaning U.S. states in its response to the coronavirus. Part of that effort manifested in this simply brilliant PSA that showed how social distancing saves lives. The imagery of ping pong balls and mouse traps captured the "dilemma" perfectly: Would you want into a deadly trap when you could easily sidestep it? Of course not. So, why would you put your life and the lives of others at risk by something as callous as failing to respect basic social distancing guidelines?

Unfortunately, the number of new Covid-19 cases has been spiking across the country. In order to help give the public a reminder of just how deadly this disease is, and frankly, how easy it is for most people to practice social distancing, the PSA has been once again making the rounds. It's sad that we're all having to share this message again. But if it saves lives, the work must be done.

The original story begins below:

When it comes to shaping public opinion hard-hitting visual examples can be a lot more persuasive than words and statistics. The Ohio Department of Health created a visually dazzling public service announcement using ping-pong balls and mousetraps to explain how social distancing works.

This PSA is just another example of how Ohio is getting things right during the pandemic. As of April 9, the state has about 5,100 infections, fewer than a third of the cases in similarly sized Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois.


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