Here's your justification for that sandy vacay you've been craving.

This weekend was the last weekend to hit up the beach before the vacationers come in droves. I'm a big fan of the beach during the off-season. It's less-crowded, the parking is usually free, and you don't have to deal with the miles and miles of traffic on your drive down. For these reasons, I usually hit up the beach in the middle of winter with a parka instead of a swimsuit.

The vibe is completely different. Sure, it's still laidback, but instead of sipping on a koozie covered beverage, you're a bit more in tune with nature. On a nighttime winter beach stroll, my only company is a red fox sprinting down the shoreline. I could wax poetic about it for a lot longer than I already have, but the point is this: I didn't go to the beach this winter. Instead, I went the weekend before Memorial Day. So it had all the hustle and bustle of mid-July, but the parking was still free.

Being at the beach is a prime time to get some much-needed exercise in without feeling like you're exercising. Does anyone ever have the same feeling of exhaustion and dread as they walk along the shoreline, toes in the sand, that they do as their lacing up their sneakers in the gym locker room? No way. The ocean waves are crashing, seagulls are squawking, the breeze is blowing. They record that stuff to make babies fall asleep! But how much are you really benefiting from the walk on the sand? Well, I'll tell ya:

1. Targeting the foot and ankle.

Because your foot is sinking into the sand and you have to work harder to walk, the little muscles and tendons in your feet and ankles that don't usually have to wake up to get you down the sidewalk are now getting a workout. If you're walking barefoot, you don't have any of the built-in arch support that comes with your sneakers, so the tendons in your arch have to activate. Stronger feet and stronger ankles mean fewer sprains, fewer fractures, and less plantar fasciitis. Yes, please!

Work those legs out, baby!

Work those legs out, baby!

2. Extra calorie burn.

You have to use about twice as much energy to walk on sand than you do when you walk on the sidewalk. The cushiness of the ground means that your lower legs have to work harder to push off the ground and propel you forward. So you're burning extra calories without even really knowing it. And you've got a great view. No complaints there, right?

3. Stress reduction.

This actually has a scientific basis. Being near the water is thought to reduce mental stress. Wallace J. Nichols has researched and written extensively about the effects being near the water has on our brain. The sound and the openness of the space puts our brain in a meditative state that is different from how our brains normally operate. This mindset readjusts our physiology, and we just get a break — mentally and physically — from day-to-day strains.

So not only are you helping your body out when you go for a walk on the beach, you're giving your brain a little love. If you're debating whether or not you should take off work and spend that week at the beach, take it from the scientists: you should! Just remember your sunscreen!

Do you have plans to go to the beach this summer? Let us know in the comments!

The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.