Now that summer is over, you may be looking for an excuse to go on a little escape. Everyone knows a little R&R can recharge the mind and soul, but did you know traveling can also boost your health? Regular vacations can help us to reconnect with ourselves while also opening up an opportunity for self-discovery, which can get us back to feeling our best.
Follow Your Heart
According to the Framingham Heart Study, men who take at least one vacation per year are 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease. Likewise, women who take a vacation every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who vacationed twice a year or more.
“A host of different research has highlighted the potential cardiovascular benefits of taking a vacation, like a decrease in incidences of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks,” says Scott Yates, an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery in Plano, Texas. “The decrease in cardiovascular issues can be attributed to a decrease in stress, which is a big contributor to developing a heart condition.”
According to the Global Coalition on Aging (GCA), even after vacationing for only a day or two, 89 percent of people are able to relax and leave work stressors behind, and those effects can be felt for at least five weeks after the vacation!
Although traveling with friends and family can add a new host of stressors to a vacation, research shows that spending time with loved ones can help keep relationships strong, which can reduce stress and improve your overall health and sense of well-being.
If you’re traveling to another country, picking up the native language or even just a few common phrases can work wonders for your brain and social skills, as well.
“Don’t worry if you don’t speak much of the local language,” Yates says. “Most people appreciate the effort and it opens up a channel for communication. Who knows, you might even learn a local secret or two that will add to your vacation.”
According to a survey by career website Glassdoor, the average U.S. employee only takes half of his or her eligible vacation time. And according to the US Travel Association, 53 percent of all Dallas-Fort Worth workers have unused vacation days, just under the state average of 55 percent.
“Research shows that workers who take time off end up being more productive, have a higher morale and are less likely to mentally check out while at work,” says Yates. “They also report being less stressed and have a lower risk of burnout.”
Improve Physical Strength
While some people’s idea of vacation may require as little physical activity as possible, travelers tend to be more active than they would be sitting at their desk while at work. Tourists can walk as much as ten miles a day while sightseeing. One day at Disney World can even add up to 15 miles of walking!
“While on vacation, you might be a little more inclined to try activities that are unique to that place, like paddleboarding, hiking, canoeing or even yoga,” says Yates. “Although you’re having fun, you’re still moving and being active, which in turn can help you stay in shape!”
Elevate Your Immune System
When traveling or doing anything outdoors, hand sanitizer may seem like a no-brainer to toss in your bag, but research shows that exposure to some dirt and minor illnesses actually keeps your body and gut strong.
“This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take necessary precautions like keeping up with basic hygiene or forgoing the proper immunizations before visiting another country, but introducing your body to some new bacteria isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” says Yates.
Lower Your Risk of Depression
The constant busyness that consumes our day-to-day routine can lead down a slippery slope to depression, but according to research by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin women who vacation at least twice a year are two times less likely to develop depression than their counterparts who travel once every six years or less.
“When you’re feeling down and depressed, you want an escape from feeling that way,” says Yates. “Going on a trip can give you the literal escape you’re looking for, which can, in turn, help you escape negative thoughts and feelings of sadness.”
If you’re one of the 54 percent of Americans who left behind unused vacation hours in 2016, we hope these scientifically proven health benefits of travel help jumpstart your vacation plans and jumpstart your health.