By JoAnn Hill
Travel can sometimes be viewed as frivolous, luxurious and even self-indulgent. Sure, there’s no denying that travel can be all of those things. But what if travel was also recognized as good for your health? Would we still dismiss the notion of traveling as a treat, as opposed to something that’s more of a necessity?
According to a health study conducted by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School, taking a vacation can have a significant influence on stress, immune pathways, and overall well-being. Researchers found that vacations can produce similar biological effects as meditation. This study found that when a person’s environment changed—particularly when it shifted from a high-stress atmosphere, such as the workplace, to a more relaxed setting, such as a resort—it promoted wellness and improved short-term health results.
"It's intuitive that taking a vacation reduces biological processes related to stress, but it was still impressive to see the large changes in gene expression from being away from the busy pace of life, in a relaxing environment, in such a short period of time," said Elissa S. Epel, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco and first author of the study.
Travel can enhance our overall health in numerous ways:
- Relaxation and enjoyment allow us to decompress and decrease tension. When we take a break from the day-to-day grind and responsibilities that come with it and when we spend time with our loved ones, our stress levels drastically decrease.
- Fresh air and sunshine are good for us. We all need more of it! Fresh air increases oxygen in our blood and gives us more energy. When we have more energy, we are less sluggish and tend to be more productive. Sunshine provides us with vitamin D which can boost our moods while helping to fight off depression and so much more.
- When we go on vacation, the promise—at least to those without kids—is that we can get some much needed additional sleep. While the benefits of increased sleep are virtually endless, getting more shut-eye can elevate our state of mind, raise alertness and productivity, delay aging and even help control weight.
- Taking vacations can stave off work burnout. As an elementary teacher of 14 years, I can attest to the importance of taking time away to recharge from a fast-paced and sometimes challenging job. Taking time for ourselves and getting much needed rest can help ward off the feelings of being overworked, exhausted and unmotivated. Travel can revitalize us and give us a fresh start, which may ultimately lead to increased creativity and efficiency.
- Travel can help improve social skills, leading to less stressful situations. One of my favorite aspects of traveling is meeting new people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures. I love learning about the different customs and traditions that other cultures practice. If social situations make you anxious, traveling may be one step toward decreasing that anxiety.
I am typically not one for relaxing vacations. My husband and I tend to take more active and cultural trips. However, a few years ago, we decided to celebrate a few milestones with a trip to Bora Bora. This South Pacific island is perhaps the closest we’ll get to heaven on Earth. Its stunning scenery left us breathless. It’s also extremely remote, and we felt as if we were floating in the middle of the universe engulfed in endless turquoise waters. There isn’t much to do on the island, but that is one of its greatest allures. We were able to get plenty of sleep, exercise nearly every day, read multiple books, and really connect with one another.
After Bora Bora we returned home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. We were ready to dive back into work and our daily responsibilities. This trip, along with many others we’ve taken over the years, provided us with the restorative outlet we both desperately needed.
Of course you do not need to take an extravagant trip to receive the many health benefits of travel. A quick weekend getaway can be equally as beneficial and can instill feelings of fulfillment, joy and renewal.
The next time you’re feeling hesitant or guilty about taking that vacation, remember all of the good things you’ll be doing for your health. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it!
*Header image credit to Pavel L (www.unsplash.com/@feodus)