Travel: Doctor’s Orders

As someone who recently took a two week long vacation to southeast Asia and visited beautiful countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, I can attest that there are major health benefits to travel. Detaching from everyday life and immersing yourself in something new and challenging is important for anyone’s stress levels and mental health.

Besides the fact that visiting new cultures and parts of the world is exciting, being forced to adapt yourself in new surroundings for an extended period of time is also good for the brain. Having time to think, clear your head and structure your own schedule for the duration of your vacation helps develop organizational skills that you can always take home with you. 

Memories of experiences have a more profound impact on someone’s life than material objects, according to a study by Pressman et al published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2009.  

Think about it, the excitement of a material object has to fade away at one point. While some gifts may have a more longstanding impact than others, planning and looking forward to a new area of the world will always create a new template in your brain and will leave you with memories of an experience you can’t physically relive again. The idea of missing something will renew that excitement in your mind, and hopefully, will lead to eternally fond memories.

Six decades ago, The Framingham Heart Study found that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were about eight times more likely to suffer from a heart attack or diagnostically qualify for Coronary Artery Disease than women who took at least two vacations a year. 

Current research appears to agree. In 2000, a study by Gump et al observed 12,000 men who were at high risk for Coronary Artery Disease, based on traditional factors such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes mellitus. Researchers found that men who did not take their annual allotted vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from any cause and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. This benefit persisted after statistical analysis adjusted for confounding variables between both groups including comorbidities and income. This association suggested a restorative effect of vacationing on one’s health. 

You tell us: Do you feel healthier after a vacation? What getaway got you in a more blissful state of mind? Sound off on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is a third year resident in Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.