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  • Patricia Faust

Summer Time, Vacation Time, Brain Health Time



The countdown begins a couple of weeks before that long anticipated vacation time. Excitement builds as you get closer to the vacation trip. Stress and anxiety make an appearance too! That can’t be good. This trip is meant to calm shattered nerves. No worries – your brain actually works well on some positive stress. With all of the details to attend to, your brain needs the extra motivation to push through to completion. This is good stress because it is something you are looking forward to and you have control over the situation.


The Health Boost of a Vacation

Whether you are traveling for a brief vacation or you are traveling during retirement, you are giving yourself a health boost. A study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, the Global Coalition on Aging, and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that traveling benefits are both mental and physical, the result of “physical activity, cognitive stimulation, and social engagement”. These are big brain health categories. You are not only giving your brain a good dose of healthy living; you are also helping your heart. This same report found that women who vacation two times a year have a significantly reduced chance of heart attacks or coronary deaths. There were similar results for men. Men who don’t take an annual vacation have a 20% increased risk of death and a 30% risk of death from heart disease. A simple vacation has a lot of power.


The Value of a Novel and Complex Environment

Your brain loves novel and complex environments. When you are navigating your way through an unfamiliar city or country, your brain responds by growing new dendrites – extensions of brain cells which result in increased brain resiliency. What results is that your brain reacts to the challenge and processes all the new incoming information on a deeper level.

Do you get the same physical and mental benefits if you go to your favorite vacation spot at the beach every year? You definitely reduce you’re your stress hormones that age your brain. But since your brain reacts to new discoveries and activities it is good to check out a few new things. Even trying new restaurants and local attractions will stimulate your brain.

Group trips offer additional brain health benefits. Spending time with new people increases your brain benefits from socialization. Guided tours and activities give all of the novel exposure without the tenseness of getting lost or being unable to communicate. New friends, a refreshed and energized brain are valuable assets of group vacations.


Staycations Offer the Same Benefit

It is not necessary to go to exotic locales or beautiful white sand beaches to benefit from these vacation health perks. Staycations can be just as valuable. There are always new locations, activities, and events that are happening close to home. Do a little research to get the most out of your vacation days. Your brain will benefit if you just treat it to new, novel, and complex activities.

The toughest day of vacation time is when it is over, and you go back to your regular life. We continue to feel the benefits of relaxation a few days after we reenter reality. And even though we sense that we are back in the rat race, our hearts and brains continue to benefit from our vacation break. The perspective on that next vacation might change since you understand these benefits. What is now a ‘might take a vacation’ could very well turn into a ‘must take vacation’. Whether you are vacationing at home, taking a road trip, or flying to foreign lands, your vacation can be the very best gift you can give to yourself and your brain.


References:

Noel,J. (Jan.28,2014). Travel as a health regimen. Not only is travel shown to improve your health, but it makes your brain grow. Tribune Travels. Retrieved July I, 2015 from http://www.chicagotribune.com.


O’Brien,E. (Jan. 15, 2014). Travel that keeps the heart and brain healthy. Studies suggest that leisure travel can boost cognitive and cardiovascular health. Retrieved July 1, 2015 from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/travel-that-keeps-the-heart-and-brain-healthy-2014-01-15.


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