Planning your spring or summer vacation? Good. It’s actually healthy to travel. Research shows some compelling connections between traveling and staying hale and hearty.
The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, shows travel offers the same sort of physical and cognitive health benefits as crossword puzzles and museum visits.
What’s more, the long-running Framingham Heart Study asked women aged 45 to 64 how often they took a vacation. In a 20-year follow-up study, researchers found women who vacationed every six years (or less) had a significantly higher risk of developing a heart attack or coronary death compared with women who vacationed at least twice a year, even adjusting for traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure.
“Travel exposes individuals to new cuisines, languages, and cultures in a refreshing and healthy way that can’t be taught in a classroom or imbibed from the television,” says Suzanne Garber CEO of Gauze, a global database of hospitals and the former COO of a medical travel company.
“One of my neighbors is a 75-year old retired school teacher who purposefully travels to a unique location every year. One year she went to Morocco, another year Indonesia, another year Bahrain. Why? Because she is a perpetual student who ‘wants to keep things fresh.’”
International travel expert Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of smarTours, a guided tour company based in New York City that caters to boomers and seniors, says all vacations have health benefits, but the specific benefits vary by type of vacation.
Rest & Relaxation Vacation
Hitting the beach with nothing but lolling on a chaise lounge, reading a steamy novel or taking luxurious spa treatments on the agenda is an excellent way to decompress on Summer vacation. “The pure rest and relaxation summer vacation is great for your mental health in terms of stress reduction and simply allowing yourself to re-set,” says Geronemus.
Traveling gives one a feeling of accomplishment much like learning a new task, hobby, or computer program.
Arranging a tour of Washington D.C. or Rome? “The active sightseeing summer vacation typically involves a lot of walking, which is great for burning calories and cardiovascular health, and it also opens your eyes to different cultures, which is also quite healthy,” says Geronemus.
Garber says if you want to see the Corcovado in Rio you must climb the stairs. Planning on visiting the pyramids in Egypt? Be prepared to trek a lot to get there. Ready to walk the Great Wall of China? It’s a strenuous, high altitude hike!
“My mother, 72 and uses a cane, came with me on a recent trip to Asia and was so excited to be able to walk up most of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong or get on a tiny fishing vessel to see the outcroppings in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam,” says Garber.
“Travel pushes our physical limits. In the U.S., so much is accessible via car or even wheelchair (even though there is still improvement to be made) yet much of the rest of the world has little to no focus on those who may be physically impaired,” says Garber. Vacationers shouldn’t forget to carry along their portable wrist blood pressure monitor to keep track of their heart health along the way.
Overall, the sense of accomplishment, mood boost and opportunity to build memories on sightseeing trips brings lasting wellness benefits that you can’t get at home.
A hiking, biking or surfing trip provides obvious physical health benefits—burning calories, providing a cardio workout and increasing strength training. What’s more, travel emboldens and gives courage. Many individuals–and seniors as well–point to gaining courage and confidence while traveling, especially if going to a place that challenges their status quo or if traveling alone.
Of course, there can be risk with traveling and this is true for seniors. Knowing the risks can help minimize them. Seniors can sometimes be targeted for crime and need to be aware of their surroundings, and everyone is subject to health issues during travel. A survey by TelaDoc says 45 percent of all travelers become ill while traveling. Being prepared for the risks can help minimize them so you can have a happy, healthy summer vacation.