Travel may seem like a luxury, an added bonus that broadens our horizons and leaves us with precious memories -- and photos for the mantlepiece. But did you know there's actually quite a bit of research suggesting travel is good for your health?
Here are just a few reasons why getting out there and exploring the world may help you live both better and longer.
We often hear experts discussing the important role these microscopic y-shaped proteins play in our immune systems. Antibodies are like scouts; they seek out and mark any invading bacteria, viruses, or foreign agents in your body so that your T-cells can destroy them.
Each antibody is capable of identifying only one type of invader, and your immune system can't immediately produce antibodies for particles it's never encountered. However, once your body has encountered a threat, it develops and retains antibodies that can identify that threat forever. This is why, in general, people only get chicken pox once.
Travel naturally exposes you to new environments with unfamiliar bacteria, viruses, and other miscellaneous particles, teaching your body to produce antibodies capable of marking them for destruction. Over time, this will give your immune system a stronger arsenal, and make you resilient to more potential sources of infection than non-travelers.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should go to Calcutta and eat undercooked chicken curry out of a ditch. But there's evidence that moderate exposure to foreign antigens can improve your immune responses.
2. Stress Relief
As medical science has advanced, the threats to our health have changed. The killers in developed nations are no longer cholera, malaria, or plague. They're heart disease and hypertension. Stress!
Studies have shown that travel can help reduce stress. "Surprise, surprise," I hear you say. "Who knew spending a week on the beach is easier on the mind and soul than spending a week in Minnesota in February?" But there's more to it than the bloody obvious!
The effects of taking time away have been shown to last up to five weeks, with travelers reporting fewer stressful days when they return from their excursions.
On a larger scale, not taking breaks from the grind of daily life can result in higher levels of the so-called 'stress hormone' cortisol, which can quicken the aging process! So if you want to stay young, it really is a good idea to give yourself some r&r by getting away from it all.
3. Keep Your Mind Sharp
There is considerable evidence to suggest that staying physically active helps you stay mentally sharp as you age. Being 'physically active' doesn't have to mean running a marathon or taking up bodybuilding. It can just as easily mean spending time in National Parks, hiking, bike riding -- and yes, traveling.
Thinking about taking a hike? Check out 5 Beautiful National Parks That Are Never Busy.
Travel is especially good for keeping the mind sharp because it necessarily implies change. It's so easy to get bogged down in routine. I wake up at this time, I eat this for breakfast, I read this magazine, I walk the dog in this park. It can be stultifying.
Travel takes you to new places, introduces you to strange people, exotic foods, novel ways of living. It forces your brain to adapt, to remain flexible. It's good for mental health, and mental health is every bit as important as physical health as we age.
4. Healthy Heart
Now, we wouldn't want to claim that travel alone will cure or prevent heart disease. You can visit every country on earth, and the dark side of the moon as well, but if all you eat are donuts... you're not going to have a healthy ticker.
However, heart heath correlates pretty convincingly with travel.
One longitudinal study showed that, over the course of 9 years, men who didn't take vacations were substantially more likely to suffer heart attacks. (Another study produced similar results for women, by the way. So it's not just a guy thing.)
Point being: if you have a spouse who's a bump on a log, it couldn't hurt to take them away for a nice long weekend out of town. Their heart will thank you.
5. Stronger Bones
When we travel, we tend to be out and about more than when we're at home. If the place you're visiting is sunny, that can have a positive impact on your bones.
The sun is our best source of Vitamin D, without which humans cannot live. Vitamin D improves your body's intake of calcium through the digestive tract; calcium, in turn, strengthens bones.
So if you visit Athens, and you spend an afternoon exploring the Acropolis, soaking up some sun, you're doing your bones a favor as well. Or at least more of a favor than you would be doing them at home, inside, curled up and reading Jodi Picoult.
Want to learn about easy-to-take trips? Check out 5 Bucket List Trips You Can Take On A Budget.
6. Better Relationships
As we've emphasized, emotional and mental health, apart from being important in their own right, play a role in physical health. Excessive stress is no good for you. And when you feel your most important relationships aren't as intimate as you'd like, that can be a major source of stress.
Traveling with a partner is a great way to enhance intimacy, to learn more about one another, to deepen the connection.
Research bears this out. According to one study, couples who travel together are 11% more likely to tell each other how they really feel, and 8% more likely to be satisfied with how they communicate.
Correlation is not the same as causation, and it would be as foolish to suggest travel can save a marriage as it would be to say travel can cure heart disease. But if you're feeling in a rut, longing for intimacy, looking to reconnect with your partner, what better way to do it than by going on an adventure together?