Things that benefit our physical health and well-being are rarely fun. Exercise, good nutrition, and medical maintenance are considered chores for most people. Even the most enthusiastic of runners often have to drag themselves out of bed and force on their sneakers. What if I told you, though, that one of the most enjoyable experiences in life can also have tremendous health benefits? As it turns out, travel not only increases our sense of happiness and fulfillment, but also fights heart disease and depression and reduces stress.
Here’s how it works:
Travel Fights Depression.
According to a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association, the release of tension we feel while on vacation is, in part, a psychological result of changing our environment. By physically removing ourselves from the places and activities that cause us the most stress, we are allowing our minds and bodies to reset and rejuvenate. Although a vacation’s capacity to decrease stress is obvious, the resulting impact on our health is often overlooked. A 2005 study by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who vacation less than once every two years are more likely to suffer from depression and stress than women who vacation at least twice a year. This is not at all surprising when one takes into account the benefits listed above. What many would be shocked to learn, however, is the physical toll that depression takes on the body. Depression can cause sleep disorders, fatigue, and even physical pain. It also weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness and less able to fight it off. By taking a vacation to ward off depression, your physical health is just as likely to improve as your mental state.
Travel Combats Heart Disease.
According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, choosing to work for several years without taking a vacation can increase a man’s risk of having a heart attack by a startling 30 percent. By contrast, the men in the study who reported vacationing frequently were 21 percent less likely than the average participant to die of a heart attack. The results for women were even more stark. Reportedly, women who vacationed very infrequently – once in six years or less – were eight times more likely to experience a heart attack than the average participant. These results are likely due to the link between heart disease and stress, as well as the fact that people who travel often are more likely to be physically active.
Travel Promotes Feelings of Hope and Fulfillment.
A recent study published by the Association for Psychological Science found that anticipating a wonderful experience, such as a vacation, can bring a tremendous amount of joy in itself. I have definitely found this to be true – after a long and tedious workday, it is always nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, being on vacation itself is a mood-boosting experience, but the benefits to your happiness do not end when the trip is over. A 2010 study by Cornell University found that, while joy from buying material objects decreases over time, joy from spending money on pleasurable experiences does not. When you look at your honeymoon photos, will you smile because of the cute shoes you were wearing, or the memory of the tide sliding over your toes?
By exposing yourself to new cultures, you broaden your worldview and, by extension, enhance your own identity. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
The destination doesn’t matter – just hit the road! The act of travel in itself is wonderfully beneficial for your mind, soul, and body. “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go,” said Robert Louis Stevenson. “I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”