Travel, Good for Your Health

Great news.  It’s healthy to admit you’ve been bitten by the travel bug.  More so, you can plan that next getaway, holiday or road trip knowing that you’re doing something positive for your mind and body.  That news recently came from the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association, just released research showing that travel offers the same sort of physical and cognitive benefits as crossword puzzles or museum visits.

Those are the findings of a new study that linked reduction in heart attacks and associated risks and the decrease of depression plus ways of promoting brain health, which may fight off age-related dementia.  According to the study, released first by the LA Times (December 17, 2013) the following is most notable:

  • 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.

  • Men who did not take an annual vacation were shown to have a 20% higher risk of death and about a 30% greater risk of death from heart disease.

  • Benefits of travel are almost immediate. After only a day or two, 89% of respondents saw significant drops in stress.

If you’re of the school that believes one should wait until after retirement to travel, I hope these statistics will ruffle your feathers.  It might actually be detrimental to your health and emotional well being to put off that “once in a lifetime trip” because when we are working, juggling family and careers, and trying to do way too much, that is when travel can make the difference contributing to a healthy life and future.   This same study also noted that 59% of Americans dream of traveling during their retirement but without short getaways and even weekend trips, the question is:  Will these same people be healthy and strong enough to do that dream travel after 65 or beyond?

In the study, researchers accounted for factors such as income levels and pre-existing health issues.  The results were the same.

How about making some travel plans now?  Here are some tips to remember:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during and when you arrive at your destination.  The body can override the signals for thirst, which means we put off getting that water.  Lack of water inhibits the body’s ability to function well.
  • Layer your clothing.  I like roomy slacks and jackets when I fly and yet sometimes need a sweater or socks.  Fashion is fun, but it only goes so far when traveling.  I travel a lot and while it has not happened to me, we’ve all heard horror stories of lost luggage or cancelled flights.  By layering if you arrive but your checked luggage doesn’t make it, you can switch around your outfit.  Not a great solution, but it works.
  • Don’t stagnate.  Move around especially when flying more than three hours.  Get up and walk a bit, go to the restroom and stretch.  When sitting in a flight of more than a few hours, circulation can slow and cause serious health issues.  Waiting for the next plane, briskly walk through the airport at the fastest pace you can safely manage.
  • Be snack happy.  While healthful food choices on airlines sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, you need not worry when you pack trail mix, healthy muffins, fresh veggie sticks and fruit. Pack a cool sandwich and fruit, in a thermal lunch box.   While it’s tempting to eat a large meal before a flight, light snacks eaten often will make you feel more comfortable.  Troubled by jet lag?  Steer clear of alcohol and caffeinated drinks until your internal clock is acclimated to the new time zone.
  • Exercise in your seat.  I am NOT suggesting doing jumping jacks or toe touches on the next flight.  Instead while sitting in your airplane seat, reach high over your head, hold that, then slowly relax and bend forward.  You can lift one leg at a time and hug your knee to your chest.  You can roll your shoulders.  My favorite is to contract the abdominal muscles, while sitting up straight.  Hold that tummy in for a count of five to 50, relax and repeat.
  • A few more tips:  Always travel with prescriptions and keep them in their original containers.  Keep photocopies of your passport, driver’s license and itinerary in your carry on, in your suitcase and leave a copy at home with a friend.

To read more about how travel helps keep us youthful, fit and trim, check out the information from the Global Commission on Aging and Trans-American Center for Retirement Studies at www.globalcoalitiononaging.com/v2/data/uploads/documents/destination-healthy-aging-white-paper_final-web.pdf.

Bon voyage.  Make travel an essential part of your healthy future as you stay fit for life.

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