The following is a guest post from Christine Rudolph, a fellow blogger:
Just like we invest in our home’s upkeep, our children’s education, and our retirement plans, vacations have numerous health benefits that can’t be ignored – and are worth investing in as we age. Aside from the known psychological benefits like improved mood and relaxed state of mind, vacations have additional crucial outcomes that are worth considering as we age.
Vacations can help us live longer
In numerous studies on the health effects of frequent vacationing, researchers have found that vacations, as a holistic respite-care experience, can help us live longercrisis-free lives. In one 20 year follow-up study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, assessing long-term outcomes of the Framingham Study of women, researchers found that women who took frequent vacations over several decades were less likely to experience myocardial infarction and coronary death.
Another study of rural women in Wisconsin noted that women who takefrequent vacations are also less likely to feel tired, tense, and depressed, andare even more satisfied with their marriages than other women. These findings indicate that the psychological benefits of frequent vacations may contribute to longer life and increased quality of life over time.
In yet another study of middle-aged men at risk for coronary heart disease (CHD)published in Psychosomatic Medicine, showed that regular vacationing was associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality and, more specifically, mortalityattributed to CHD.
Vacations can reset our rhythms
In a study published in the Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology by the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS), interviewers learned that NHAPS respondents reported spending an average of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings and about 6% of their time in enclosed vehicles. This means that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors or in cars.
All that time spent indoors increases our exposure to toxins and unhealthy stimuli like: fluorescent lights; wifi signals; off-gassing furniture, paint, and carpet; and other toxins like the chloroform mixed with steam created inside our dish-washers. However, one study showed that even five minutes outdoors in “green nature” can have positive effects on our health and well-being.
Not only will a vacation outside reduce our exposure to harmful toxins, but a week spent camping outside can even completely reset our natural circadian rhythms. A 2013 studypublished in Current Biology found that one week spent camping can entrain and adjust our circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. This resynchronization promotes sleep, boosts healing, stimulates energy intake and metabolism, and increases both physical activity and cognition during the light portion of the day.
Vacations help us focus on the moment
We’ve all heard of those boomers who sell everything in their retirement to buy a fancy recreational vehicle (RV) for traveling around the country. We hear stories of their adventures taking in the sights and meeting new people – and there is something to their decision. After inheriting and accumulating a lifetime of stuff,it can be incredibly refreshing and liberating to cash it all in and downsize to a home on wheels.
But even without the drastic life choices, vacations help us leave aside our material possessions, takingonly the essentials with us for a weekend getaway or longer vacation.
When we condense our “needed” belongings into a weekender bag or couple of suitcases, we end up focusing less on our stuff and more on experiences. If we fully disconnect and manage to leave the electronic devices at home as well, all the better. Vacations can help us reprioritize what’s important to us: friends, family, and experiences.
Not only can vacations extend our lives and give us more quality time with friends and family, they can also help us reconnect to the natural, intangible, and spiritual. It’s an investment in our future that pays back in our health and relationships, making us more connected, productive, healthy, and alert as we age.