As regards temperature, sea bathing comes under the general head of cold baths. Sea water, however, at those seasons of the year when sea bathing is resorted to, is of a moderate degree of coldness, varying in this latitude not much from seventy degrees Fahr.
In order to appreciate fully the effects of sea bathing upon the system, a number of things are to be considered.
Sea water differs in its effects from common water by its possessing greater density. This circumstance, however, is not of so great importance as that of the stimulating nature of the minerals it contains. The saline ingredient is a powerful stimulant and even irritant of the skin. On account of this property, it is found that an exposure to the action of salt water is not so liable to cause ill effects as that to fresh. The salt causing a degree of heat upon the surface somewhat higher than that of the natural state, the system is for the time shielded from the action of cold. It does not follow from this, however, that a person could live longer immersed in sea than in common water, any more than it follows that because alcohol for a time increases the animal temperature, life can, under circumstances of great exposure to cold, be the longer preserved. This it is now well known is not the case.
An advantage of sea bathing in the hot season is, that the air at the sea shore is cooler than on land. That our climate in summer is too hot for the most favorable development of health is proved by the great increase of mortality, not only in our cities, but in other parts, during the hot season. The European cities, with all their numbers of inhabitants, dampness, narrow streets, intemperance, pauperism, etc., would naturally be expected to show a higher range of mortality than our American cities, but such is not the fact. Even New York, with all its natural advantages, is as sickly, probably, as any of the British or European cities. This, it is agreed on all hands, must be owing in great part to the intense heat of our summer months.
The manner of taking the saltwater bath has some peculiarities which are favorable to health. It is, in the first place, in the open air, which, if the weather is favorable, that is, neither too hot nor too cold, is always a great advantage. Other things being equal, a bath in the open air is always attended with a better reaction and a greater degree of invigoration than one with in doors.
In the second place, sea bathing is usually and almost necessarily connected with exercise both before and after the bath, circumstances which are always highly favorable to the action of cold water. So beneficial, indeed, is exercise taken in this way, that it would be difficult to determine which of the two the exercise or the bathing is the more beneficial. In connection, the two act reciprocally upon each other, each rendering the other doubly beneficial.
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