Wanderlust: Here are the health benefits of travelling

By Bakani M. Ncube

Wanderlust is one of my favourite words; a noun with German origins meaning ‘a strong, innate desire to travel about and to rove’. In this article, we will consider the health benefits of travel.

Nowadays, most people are forfeiting their vacation despite stress, anxiety and other negative effects of not taking time off at work. Experts state that “apart from depriving yourself the chance to enhance your productivity & work performance, avoiding taking a break can lead to stress overload and other potentially damaging effects on your health.” A vacation will offer you the chance to relax and results in the restoration of your overall wellbeing. Travelling to foreign lands will allow you to immerse yourself in new surroundings, boosting your brainpower and fully recharge. These are both smart moves for mind, body & soul.

Travelling will recharge you emotionally and increase your empathy especially when your vacation is near a water body. According to Wallace J. Nichols, “often associated with feelings of awe and wander, water can boost our empathy and compassion, our connection to ourselves and those who we are with, and for many – from musicians like Pharrell to neurologists like Oliver Sacks – it’s a steady source of creativity and insight.”

When you are on vacation, you are often more active compared to when you are in your usual routine. As we are more inclined to try new activities and some cities are so picturesque you tend to wander down the cobbled streets through narrow alleys for hours on end. The emergence of fitness-centric resorts that encourage guests to get fit and try new workouts to boost physical and mental health away from home are another way that travel will result in you getting in shape.

Dr Margaret J. King says that “there are a lot of psychological benefits from a change of venue from home and work to ‘third places’ devoted to just experiencing the environment. With a short list of activities each day, freed from the complexity of ongoing projects & relationships, the mind can reset, as does the body, with stress relief being the main outcome. Humans thrive on novelty and travel offers the complete package with new faces, sounds and sights.” Vacations give us that time for much needed sleep, they are an opportunity to wind down and rest up. As a pharmacy student, most nights are spent up till late resulting in little sleep and high stress, both contributing to irritability and negative repercussions on cognitive performance and efficiency. Max Hirshkowitz, the chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reiterates the importance of vacations as he highlights that a “vacation is a great opportunity to catch up on sleep” and to feel more energized.

Diamond Resorts International (2014) found over three quarters of respondents reporting feeling happier when they planned a trip at least once a year. When on vacation, there is a reduction in the release of stress hormones which degrade our mental, physical health and the nostalgia long after the trip will trigger happiness. Overall, there is a boost in mood from the trip.

We seldom consider that there are scientifically proven health benefits to travel. A partnership between Global Commission on Aging & Transamerica centre for retirement studies with the US Travel Association found that travel leads to a healthier life. Their study found that women who vacation at least twice a year show a significantly lower risk of suffering a heart attack than those who only travel once every six years or so. Men who do not take an annual vacation show a 20% higher risk of death and a 30% greater risk of heart disease.

Lastly, having gypsy blood will lover depression – healthier alternatives are available for escaping the hopelessness of a depressed state and travel is one such healthier alternative. With this arsenal of knowledge on your side, the question on my mind becomes “Where will you go?” Do yourself a favour. Before it’s too late, without thinking too much about it first, pack a pillow and a blanket and see as much of the world as you can. You will not regret it. One day it will be too late.

Bakani M. Ncube is the outgoing SEO of the Zimbabwe Pharmaceutical Students Association (ZPSA), the current CP of ZPSA and an International Campus Ambassador for the WHSS 2017.

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