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  • Patricia Faust

Summer Time, Vacation Time, Brain Health Time - Even in the Time of COVID




We are flying through the end of summer and charging into the beginning of fall. Usually by now I have written about the benefits of taking a vacation. But this year everything is different. There was little to do throughout the summer because of COVID closures and regulations surrounding everything we tried to do. The uncertainty of having a job, possibly trying to figure out how to pay the bills and feed the family were topmost on many people’s minds. Writing about a vacation may seem frivolous at this time. Taking a vacation might be totally out of the question. However, we need to give our brains a break for a little while. Taking a vacation is in the eyes of the beholder.

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.

These endorsements are convincing in normal times. But during COVID they might seem to be frustrating. Let’s look at this through a different lens. Search the internet and find the locations that are driving distance from your home. What surprises do you find? Our brain loves surprises. You can still get the big benefits of traveling close to home as you do when you travel to exotic locales.

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 countryside, 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. Navigating through the precautions of each new location can present a challenge for your brain. Instead of feeling frustrated that you can’t just do what you want to do, find a way to make it work for you. Facing a challenge with positivity will refresh your brain.

Staycations Offer the Same Benefit

Staycations can be just as valuable in giving your brain what it needs for a break. There are always new locations to explore 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, or taking a road trip, your vacation can be the very best gift you can give to yourself and your brain even in the time of COVID.

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 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 from http://www.marketwatch.com/story/travel-that-keeps-the-heart-and-brain-healthy-2014-01-15.

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