Forget branded super foods and miraculous vitamin tabs. Move over treadmill sessions in the gym and bleary-eyed half marathons on icy winter mornings. Call a halt those fanatical 100 pushups and stomach-battering crunches. What if we told you that travel is a fine way to stay fit and healthy?
Yep, it's been shown and shown again that exploring the globe helps to keep the valves and nerves and muscles intact, all whilst promoting mental health and opening up some of the planet's most amazing places.
And just before you tut and roll the eyes at just another article spouting the benefits of being free and on the road, consider that recent studies have shown that going nomad has effects as far reaching as stress reduction and immune system bolstering. Didn't think you could do that from the beaches of the Thai Andaman now, did you?
Travel Is Like Exercise For The Brain
Top of the health bill when it comes to traveling is state of mind. We know that might sound rather unscientific to all the PhD-touting docs out there but there's actually plenty to be said for the way that hitting the road can help your mental wellbeing.
The brain is a muscle. And just like all other muscles in the body, the brain needs exercising. It's the reason why daily puzzles or games of chess are recommended to older folk – to keep the synapses and neurons ticking over to ensure they are always engaged and thinking.
Like a good old crossword, travel presents a series of mental challenges that often require lateral thinking to overcome. Those sorts of challenges are there every day when you're on the road. Whether it's deciphering of airport maps, off-the-cuff currency conversions, or attempting to translate English into broken Thai with hand actions, you're always pushing the head to do new and different things.
That's exercise: Brain exercise.
Finding Your Inner Zen While Traveling The World
Stress is the bane of the modern Rat Race. Whether it's college exams or job interviews or the simple decision of what to wear on a night out, we've managed to create a world in which potential worries are everywhere and almost unavoidable.
That's certainly no good for your state of mind. In fact, it's widely believed that long-term stress can lead to a weakened immune system, more tiredness, anxiety, and even contribute to some pretty darn serious diseases.
The solution? Escape it. Escape it with a yoga session on the rocks of the Thai coast. Escape it with a hike through primeval jungles. Escape it with long, lazy days of surfing and beer sipping on the Nicaraguan Pacific. Escape it with Vietnamese beaches and fun-loving fiestas in Brazil. Escape it and it can't harm you. That's the thinking, anyway.
Don't just take our word for it though – studies have detailed the relaxation benefits of travelling. One even noted how people are considerably happier when they know they have a holiday or trip coming up, adding that waiting for an experience is more fulfilling than just waiting for a possession to come your way. (As if you needed another reason to forget a new smartphone and choose a trip to Bangkok, eh?).
And then there are all the bonuses of rubbing shoulders with cultures where the stresses of our modern life simply aren't there. You'll discover those in serene Buddhist temples and in empty coves on sleepy Greek islands. You'll get them while waxing down your surfboard in the company of sloths in Panama or chilling on your own sandbank in the shade of palm trees somewhere tropical.
Travelling Inspires Creativity… Which Is Healthy
The third bonus that travel brings to the cognitive sphere is creativity. That might seem crazy. People are creative or not and that's that, right? Apparently not. Because our brains are a web of neurons and synapses and nerve connections that are conditioned by both genetics and environment, it's possible to change the way you think by changing your environment. And what's travel if not a change of environment?
It's not just a humble (perpetual) gap yearer saying this, either. Decorated scholars and world-famous writers seem to agree. Quotes from Ernest Hemingway to Ibn Battuta certainly concur on the brain-changing power of hopping around the globe. Other, more modern, theses show that putting yourself in strange, new, daunting, unknown situations is a great way to help your brain connect disparate information and thoughts, adding to your ability to link ideas and memories.
The power of the new is the running theme here. Doctors widely agree on how new experiences can help to trigger different chemical changes and reactions in the brain. That, in turn, helps you to bolster your bank of feelings and knowledge of different things. It also helps stretch those all-important neurons, always working them, never letting them rest – like pumping iron for the head.
Traveling Means You're More Likely To Do Exercise
"I'm heading to Thailand to get fit"… said no one, ever (except maybe a few muay Thai aficionados). From bucket cocktails to wild Full Moon parties, a jaunt to the Land of Smiles is usually about doing the opposite of a health club. But that doesn't mean that it's without its health benefits.
In fact, for people who don't exercise regularly at home, traveling can be a real godsend. It puts you in a situation where doing some sort of workout on a day-to-day basis isn't only more likely but downright necessary.
We can think of countless examples. There's hiking up the dusty ridges to see the breathtaking panoramas of Pai Canyon. There's heading out for beach days spent swimming and building sandcastles along the edge of the Andaman. There's trekking rugged peaks in the Greek Aegean to find mystical monasteries. There's surfing the waves of the Pacific. There's learning the ins and outs of sailing as your whizz this way and that across the Adriatic Sea. And that's not even mentioning the need to lug that hefty backpack from bus to hostel to boat as you go – any backpacker will tell you that's a whole other gym session on its own.
All of the above – and we could easily go on – are prime examples of how traveling will get you out and about, stretching the legs, working the muscles and burning calories. You might not realize it but you're always exercising when you're on the road.
The Cultural Gains Of Travelling Mean You Can Be Healthier In The Long Run
Encountering new and different places is a sure way to broaden your horizons and gain knowledge about the way the world works. One upshot of that is seeing how other people around the globe opt to stay fit and healthy.
That could be as simple as learning how to cook Vietnamese pho or seeing the diets of local Japanese fishing folk, both of which will help you vary your cooking more in the future and lead to a fulfilling cuisine back at home.
It could be more complex though. It could mean adding in a yoga session to your morning routine – a practice that's been shown to destroy soaring stress levels, make you more mindful and more productive in life. It could mean gaining a penchant for a daily swim courtesy of the Andaman Sea – you'll miss that evening splash for sure. It could mean a newfound love for an outdoorsy pursuit like hiking or surfing. It could mean meeting someone who inspires you to take your fitness by the proverbial horns and make the next year count. All are possible.
The point is that because you don't know what will happen when you travel, there's a chance that you'll come back with more knowledge of healthy eating and living. That can only be a good thing for people who had not really strayed into the world of wellbeing before they packed the bags and went, right?
Traveling Makes You Socialize And Socializing Is Healthy
Anyone who's ever left home and headed out on the road will know that seeing amazing sights and tasting new food is only half the story. The other half is a human story: Traveling is about meeting people; different people; interesting people.
The result is that socializing and traveling go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Like a Thai mahout and his elephant.
That's great news for those looking to pinpoint the health benefits of going around the globe. They can add all the benefits of chatting, talking and rubbing shoulders with other souls to their list. There are multitudinous ones, too.
From counteracting depressive thoughts to bolstering confidence levels, increasing immune health to improving memory functions, it's been shown that simply chatting to people can make oodles of positive changes to the way you are. And that's not even mentioning the long-term emotional support you'll get from making pals, something that could be indispensable to your wellbeing one day in the future.
There are loads of ways that traveling makes you a healthier person. From lowering stress levels to keeping the heart beating and helping you discover exercises that you want to do, there's bags of evidence to show that getting on the road is good news for the body. If you're interested in going walkabout with yoga sessions and sailing adventures, surfing trips and bouts of Andean jungle trekking, we've got everything you need on our tours.
"Rich is a traveler, writer and filmmaker who's always after somewhere new to go. He's been hopping around the globe since 2011, from Poland to Paris, Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh. He runs several travel sites of his own, from Ski Eastern to Live Krakow to Crabs Move Sideways. When he's not planning his next trip, he's usually listening to 50s jazz, surfing in Wales, skiing in the Alps, or just swigging (too much) great craft beer."
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