There’s nothing quite like feeling the sun on your face and the warm breeze on your skin while stroll along a beach. It may sound simple, but there really is an art to walking on the beach. To reap all the health benefits of beach walking, follow the strategies below from fitness experts who specialize in walking workouts. Their tips will strengthen your muscles and lift your mood — and enable you to exercise on the beach efficiently and safely. Consider this your must-have guide to walking on the sand.
Top health benefits of beach walking:
There are lots of health perks of walking anywhere, but here are a few of the additional ones you’ll get from walking on the beach.
- Activate new muscles: No matter where you walk, you’re going to give your leg muscles a workout, but beach walking amps up the effects. “Stepping through sand — especially if done barefoot — is an opportunity to activate even more muscles throughout the body, stimulate and strengthen the nerves and muscles in your feet and improve your gait,” Jessica Smith, a certified fitness instructor and creator of the Walk On: 4-Mile Power Walk program.
- Improve your mood: “We all know that exercise boosts your mood, but there are studies that show that when you're walking by water you get this extra boost,” says Michele Stanten, an ACE certified fitness instructor, walking coach and author of three books including Walk Off Weight. “There's something about being out there around the water that can be very relaxing and mood-boosting.” In fact, Stanten says the beach is her favorite place to walk because of the effects it has on her mood. “It just reinvigorates me in a way that walking around the park in my town or my neighborhood doesn't,” she adds.
- Practice mindfulness: “Take the opportunity to enjoy yourself being out in nature,” suggests Smith. “Listen to the sound of the waves, really pay attention to feeling the breeze and sunshine on your face, how the sand and water feel beneath your feet.” Staying in the present moment and practicing mindfulness can lead to a wide array of benefits, from lower stress and less anxiety to better sleep and increased altruism, research shows.
- Easily adjust exercise intensity: You can make a walk on the beach easy and meditative or you can turn it into a hardcore workout or do a mix of both, according to Stanten. “If you’re walking in sneakers on firmly packed sand, it is going to be similar to walking on pavement, although there’s not as much impact so it’s going to be gentler on your joints,” she explains. On the other hand, if you’re walking barefoot in soft sand, you’re going to be working more of your foot muscles and it’s going to be harder because as you sink in there’s more resistance. “You could also do intervals by walking in the softer sand for two minutes and then going to the more firmly packed sand for two or three minutes and alternate — or you can walk on the firmly packed sand and then walk in shin-deep water and feel that resistance on your legs,” suggests Stanten. The beach is also a great place to practice taking side steps, especially in the water. “All of a sudden now you’re working your abductors and adductors — the hip muscles — and you’re moving in a different way to balance out the body,” Stanten explains. “I mean, we don’t live only going in a forward direction.”
Do you burn calories by walking on the beach?
Just like any form of exercise, walking on the beach burns calories — it just might not burn more calories than walking elsewhere. “Though you are likely to expend more energy working through sand than walking on a flat surface, you may need to move a little slower in order to propel forward, which likely evens out your total calorie expenditure during your beach walk compared to a walk on the sidewalk or treadmill, for instance,” explains Smith. “Calories burned during a walk shouldn't be the main goal though.”
Tips for a better walk on the beach:
Walking on the beach is not quite as straightforward has walking on the sidewalk in your neighborhood. Use these guidelines to stay safe and make the most of your waterfront workout.
- Watch the tide: Before you hit the sand, check the tide schedule. If you walk two miles out while the tide is coming in, you might be left with just a sliver of sand on your walk back — not an ideal situation to be in!
- Ease into your walk: Start with a few minutes on the boardwalk or sidewalk and don’t go overboard if you haven’t walked on a beach in a while. Increase your speed and overall distance more gradually than you might if you were walking in shoes on a smoother surface because the muscles in your feet or ankles may not be as conditioned to walking on the uneven sand, says Smith. With the sunshine, fresh air and endorphin boost, it’s easy to do too much without even realizing it. If you’re not careful, you could raise your risk of injury, have muscles cramp up or need to sit down to rest for a while midway through your workout.
- Pay attention: Be extra careful if you’re walking at a busy time of day when rambunctious kids are running around so that you don’t have an accidental collision. “If you are walking barefoot, it's also important to pay attention to where you are stepping on the beach,” Smith points out. “Be sure to keep an eye out for sharp objects — such as shells, rocks, litter and even jellyfish — that could cause injury to your feet.” Likewise, pay attention to how your body is feeling so that you don’t overdo it.
- Protect your feet: If you find that walking barefoot is difficult, there are a lot of sharp shells on the beach or you have a condition like diabetic neuropathy that puts you at risk for foot injuries, supportive footwear is a must for beach walking. “Look for water shoes or sandals that feel comfortable in the sand and allow your feet plenty of room to spread out,” advises Smith. “Footwear that is supportive but also fits properly is crucial. You'll want to have enough room in your shoes for your toes to spread out to help your feet evenly distribute your weight as you walk. Having a toe box that is too narrow can cause or worsen bunions, which can be common in those that overpronate or roll inward with their feet.”
- Wear sunscreen “You want to make sure you're doing sun protection,” says Stanten. “It can be cloudy and breezy, but that sun can still get you.” To lessen your risk of sun exposure, take sunrise or sunset walks on the back (while still lathering on sunscreen!). Not sure what product to use? Check out Good Housekeeping's top sunscreens of 2022.
- Bring water: Along the same lines of wearing sunscreen even when it’s cloudy, bring some water with you too. With the cool ocean breeze you could get dehydrated without realizing it. This is especially important if you’re trying to do a hard workout and gives even more reason to opt for a morning or evening beach walk, says Stanten.
- Work both sides of your body: “Keep in mind that the beach is sloped so you're going to have one leg slightly higher than the other if you only walk one direction on the beach so to balance out the body make sure you go out and back,” Stanten points out. That means don’t walk a mile down the beach and then take the boardwalk back.
- Be strategic about the wind. If it’s windy out, start your workout by walking against the wind. That way your energy stores are at their highest for the hardest part. Then on your return trip, the wind will be at your back giving you a little push to the finish line.
- Do a post-workout stretch: “Stretching afterwards is always good in terms of increasing flexibility and giving those muscles that you just worked a nice stretch,” says Stanten. After a walk on the beach, it’s smart to give your calves, hamstrings, quads and hips some love, she says.
- Obey local beach laws. This should be a no-brainer, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that beaches have different rules. Some may be completely cut off from the public while others may have time restrictions. Many also have specific rules about bringing pets on the beach. Review your local guidelines ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard by the police.