Research proves it: Travel is good for your health

  • Article by: JOSH NOEL , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 1:41 PM

The report doesn’t undertake any added science but simply synthesizes previous studies, and the involvement of an insurance company might be cause for skepticism, but a recently issued white paper reaches a conclusion always worth repeating: Travel is good for you.

The benefits are both mental and physical, the result of “physical activity, cognitive stimulation and social engagement,” according to the study, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, the Global Commission on Aging and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

The report quotes previous studies concluding that women who vacation twice a year have a significantly reduced chance of heart attacks. Similarly, “men who did not take an annual vacation were shown to have … about a 30 percent greater risk of death from heart disease,” the report says.

Even accounting for the obvious likelihood that people who can afford travel also have access to better health care, researchers have concluded that “vacationing is a restorative behavior with an independent positive effect on health.”

Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, said the mental benefits are clear and can help stave off such diseases as Alzheimer’s.

Brain growth certainly isn’t confined to travel — it can just as well be had by playing tennis, picking up a new hobby or going to the symphony — but travel is an ideal method.

“Travel by definition is dropping your brain into a place that’s novel and complex,” Nussbaum said. “You’re stunned a little bit, and your brain reacts by being engaged, and you begin to process on a deep level.”

And travel’s benefits are the proverbial gift that keeps on giving. “Travel sticks with us and brings back positive memories and experiences,” he said. “You have the ability to go back there in your brain.”

Kerri Westenberg is traveling. Her “From the Travel Desk” column will return next week.

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