If you’re considering skipping your summer vacation, new research offers multiple incentives to become a tourist. Travel can keep your body and brain healthier as you age — that’s what the Global Coalition on Aging, in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, discovered by analyzing existing medical literature on travel and health.
Treat Your Heart to an Adventure
Most people focus on short-term travel benefits like unwinding when you’re out of town. If you’re lucky, your feelings of relaxation may linger for a day or two after resuming your regular at-home routine. But research shows the health advantages have a continuous effect. A nine-year study of men at high risk for coronary heart disease found that annual vacations reduced their risks of death from any cause, especially heart disease.
The long-running Framingham Heart Study reported a significant link between travel and lower heart attack and death risks from coronary disease in middle-aged women. Researchers asked 45- to 64-year-old Framingham, Massachusetts residents how often they take vacations. They adjusted their results for traditional risk factors including high blood pressure. Their findings over 20 years revealed that women who traveled at least twice a year had considerably lower heart attack or coronary death risks than those who took trips every six years or farther apart.
Intrigue Your Mind With the Unknown
Research confirms that leisure and social experiences are good for brain health. A study associated travel with a lower dementia risk. The new and complex situations travelers encounter can help keep brains sharp — new experiences of any kind can boost cognitive health by helping the brain develop dendrites, parts of nerve cells that look like tree branches. Researchers believe the novelty of leisure travel, especially navigating unfamiliar environments, also can boost the brain.
Whether your vacation includes snow skiing, hiking or walking between sites, travel provides exercise opportunities that boost more than your physical fitness. Studies indicate regular exercise may help reduce cognitive impairment and the risk of dementia. Group travel offers the added bonus of building social ties, which studies suggest helps protect against dementia.
If you prefer the familiarity of visiting the same resort every year, your standard vacation can lower your stress hormones that research shows accelerate aging. However, if you want to strengthen your brainpower, explore new destinations. If you’re not a long-distance traveler, short day trips to unknown places can afford the same mental development. Visit a neighboring community to discover new attractions, shops and restaurants.
Prepare for Every Possibility
Whether you’re flying overseas or driving a short distance from home, the American Geriatrics Society recommends older adults plan ahead for their travel health care needs. Accomplish this to-do list early enough to avoid last-minute stress.
Destination selection. Evaluate possible destination(s) for factors like altitude and climate that could affect your health. High altitudes may not be good choices if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or COPD. Avoid extreme heat if you have chronic asthma. If cold, damp days trigger arthritic flare-ups, choose a warm locale.
Doctor visits. Seek pre-travel health advice, ideally four to six weeks before departure. Go over your vacation plans with your doctor, noting any precautions you should take. A physical exam can determine your fitness for travel. You may need vaccinations before your departure. Depending on your destination, your doctor may prescribe malaria, altitude sickness or travelers’ diarrhea medicine. If you’ll cross time zones, ask if you should take your medications on your usual home time zone schedule or adjust them according to the region you visit. Inquire if you should avoid consuming any local specialties that could interact with your medications.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Be sure to order refills from a Canadian pharmacy for prompt delivery before leaving town. Pack all medications in your carry-on bag to avoid loss or damage. For airport screening and customs convenience, take prescriptions in their original containers along with copies of written prescriptions. When in doubt, check with individual airlines for specific medication policies. Be prepared for any unforeseen travel delays by including enough spare medications for several extra days.
Health insurance. Check your health insurance to confirm that it covers medical treatment if needed in a foreign country or out of state. If it doesn’t, supplemental travel health insurance will cover illness and injury necessities overseas. If you’re traveling to remote areas, consider purchasing evacuation insurance, which pays for emergency transportation to qualified hospitals.
Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Older adults have a higher-than-average risk of developing DVT. Sitting still for a long time on an airplane or train can form blood clots in your veins, usually in your legs, and block blood flow. Research finds that wearing special compression stockings can help prevent this dangerous condition.
Activities. Consider your physical limitations when planning trips and daily activities. Maybe skip strenuous activities if you have heart disease. Anyone who struggles with jet lag or motion sickness should try to avoid these situations or allow adequate downtime for recovery.
Diet. Choose dishes and beverages carefully. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveler’s health website includes specific illnesses you can get from food and water by country and how to avoid them.
With a little advance planning and caution, your vacation can be a fun and enlightening experience that leaves you with wonderful memories while enhancing your physical and mental health.