Have you ever returned home after a much-needed vacation feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world? Minus the inevitable jet lag, your days seem a little brighter, and your job a bit more doable. That’s not just because your perspective on life is masked by the incredible experience of the new city, state, or country you just visited. There’s scientific proof that traveling improves all facets of your health—physical, mental, and emotional.
Let’s start off with the obvious: no matter what region of the world you choose to venture off to, there’s always going to be some sort of exercise involved. Whether that’s running to your gate at the airport so you don’t miss your flight, walking the length of your cruise ship to view the sunset from all angles, or riding your bike through a maze of people in a crowded city, you’re going to work up a sweat one way or the other.
Physical activity has been shown to reduce disease risk, strengthen your bones and muscles, and make it easier to complete everyday activities.* While the invention of cars, shuttles, and trains has made it less challenging to navigate your whereabouts, it’s important to use your own two feet as transportation now and again. Plus, you’ll be able to experience all of the once-in-a-lifetime sites and views on your itinerary by using your body to get you there.
Now, forget about working out—traveling in and of itself can make you live longer. A research study conducted by The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement (in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association) showed that women who vacationed at least twice a year had a significantly lower risk of having a heart attack than women who vacationed every 6 years or less; men who didn’t take an annual vacation had a 20% higher risk of death.*
Being able-bodied is of utmost importance, not only during your getaway while you’re hiking in national parks or paddleboarding on a tropical ocean, but in life itself. However, mental fitness is just as fundamental—if not more—and traveling can be exactly what your mind is in need of.
In typical Western culture, excessive working is a serious problem. As an American, you’re so often on the go that it’s hard to get a single moment to yourself, let alone an entire week’s worth. It’s common to start planning a vacation only after you’ve endured a mental breakdown and suffered complete burnout from your job. In order to restore your mental health (and sanity) it’s always a smart idea to get away from the hustle and bustle of life—at least once a year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states a vital component to a person’s overall well-being and health has to do with the state of their mind. According to WHO, mental health “…enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.”* In other words, if your mind isn’t in check, your life won’t be either.
A number of studies have concluded that travel reduces stress immensely, and your cortisol (primary stress hormone) levels diminish. Stress can have detrimental effects on your brain, such as: generating feelings of anxiety and depression, affecting your decision making abilities, and even causing memory problems. Thankfully, lower stress levels aren’t observed just while you’re vacationing; fewer stressful days have been reported up to five weeks after your return home.*
While a single trip may not cure all of the stressors going on in your life, consistent travel and being open to new experiences will.
Think back to the last vacation you’ve been on. Do you remember how giddy you felt just thinking about going to a new place? Did you have uncontrollable excitement as the plane took off and you were finally en route to your destination? Were you filled with contentment your entire stay? Yeah, there’s a reason for that.
Traveling boosts your happiness. This is due to the fact that your mind is free of any work responsibilities, you get to spend quality time with family and friends, and you’re able to have many new experiences in one vacation—which is key for your emotional health. New experiences—whether that be exploring a different country and its culture, trying an adventurous activity on your trip, or simply meeting new people—have been linked to retainment of positive emotions, as studies suggest.
Getting out of your comfort zone and your everyday, mundane routine actually rewires your brain. It creates dopamine which makes you feel good and rewarded. Every time you do or see something new, your brain is remembering the positive reward that came from that experience.* That’s why seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, viewing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, or even hiking a new trail gives you an adrenaline rush and sense of joy like no other.
I bet you’re thinking that a vacation sounds really good right about now, huh? Next time your boss declines your PTO, say you’re not just requesting time off, you’re working toward a better you. Technically, you’re not lying.