by Alexander Haro
The ocean has long been thought to have therapeutic qualities. It’s pretty obvious to anyone that spends any amount of time in it: the ocean makes you feel better. But doctors in Biarritz are taking it to a whole new level, and actually prescribing it to select patients in place of medication.
According to the Telegraph, twenty doctors are prescribing 12-week courses in surfing or stand up paddling to people suffering from a range of chronic conditions including depression, back pain, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. “It’s about enacting cultural change in a country where 90 per cent patients who come out of the doctor’s surgery do so with a medical prescription,” said Guillaume Barucq, a surfer and doctor in Biarritz.
The program was created by the national Olympic committee as a way to “encourage the notoriously pill-popping French to cut back on medication and take to the waves.” The funding–just over $30,000–for the 200 people currently involved isn’t coming from the social system, either. Instead, two private health organizations, along with town hall, are pitching in. Patients are asked to pay around $10 per session.
Along with the obvious physical benefits involved in surfing and stand up paddling, doctors are saying that the new scheme has a lot to do with negative ions that are released when waves break. “They improve the oxygenation of tissue, your mood, tone, quality of sleep and concentration,” Barucq explained.
Along with surfing and paddling, doctors are also prescribing Nordic walking and swimming, depending on the patient’s ailment. In some cases, the sessions have replaced medication entirely. In one such case, a 40-year-old woman who has suffered from lumbago (chronic lower back pain) for over a decade, tried surgery, and was paralyzed for a month, said that after six months of involvement, her pain has all but disappeared.
The program involves both doctors and sports educators to figure out what would be best for each patient. “To tell a patient ‘Do some sport’ isn’t enough,” said Barucq. “It’s like telling him ‘take some medicine’ and letting him try and find the right one at the chemist.”
So far, over 20 towns in the area have reached out to find out more about the program. The French MP, Valérie Fourneyron, is planning on recommending a change to the region’s health laws to include the treatment.