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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?

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

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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

In the autumn of 1939, Chiune Sugihara was sent to Lithuania to open the first Japanese consulate there. His job was to keep tabs on and gather information about Japan's ally, Germany. Meanwhile, in neighboring Poland, Nazi tanks had already begun to roll in, causing Jewish refugees to flee into the small country.

When the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania in June of 1940, scores of Jews flooded the Japanese consulate, seeking transit visas to be able to escape to a safety through Japan. Overwhelmed by the requests, Sugihara reached out to the foreign ministry in Tokyo for guidance and was told that no one without proper paperwork should be issued a visa—a limitation that would have ruled out nearly all of the refugees seeking his help.

Sugihara faced a life-changing choice. He could obey the government and leave the Jews in Lithuania to their fate, or he could disobey orders and face disgrace and the loss of his job, if not more severe punishments from his superiors.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Sugihara was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't, I would be disobeying God." Sugihara decided it was worth it to risk his livelihood and good standing with the Japanese government to give the Jews at his doorstep a fighting chance, so he started issuing Japanese transit visas to any refugee who needed one, regardless of their eligibility.

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