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This Is Your Brain on Travel

A vacation or getaway isn’t just great fun. It’s also a powerful way to support a mental reset.

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medical pad, travel, mental health
Sisters Staff
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Years ago, when I was burned-out at work, a seven-day cruise to Bermuda did more for my mental health than lying on any chaise longue ever could. I cried, laughed, and enjoyed the pool and the music. I made sure I relished everything Bermuda had to offer. By the time I returned home, I was a new person.

Touring is a fantastic way to expand your horizons when visiting those iconic sites on your bucket list. But that’s only one advantage of getting away. Traveling is also a powerful remedy for improving and maintaining your mental health.

Researchers have found that traveling to destinations known and unknown can help improve brain health — even in people with dementia and depression. 

Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Precision Health and School of Business and Law conducted a study to investigate the effects of tourism on patients with dementia and other mental health concerns.

Researchers have found that traveling to destinations known and unknown can help improve brain health — even in people with dementia and depression.

The lead researcher, Jun Wen, Ph.D., a lecturer in tourism and hospitality management, found that “medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptations to a patient's mealtimes and environment,” Dr. Wen said in a statement. “These are all also often found when on holidays.”

Here are some of the ways travel may help boost our brain power. 

  • Movement is good for the body and the brain. When traveling, we’re likely to walk more and engage in a host of other physical activities. Studies show that movement, especially walking, can slow down the progression of dementia and help relieve depression.
  • Visiting unfamiliar places challenges you to pay more attention to your surroundings. You want to be alert and fully engaged to enjoy everything you encounter while sightseeing. When visiting Table Mountain in South Africa, for instance, a traveler can tune in to sights, smells, sounds and the feeling of objects in the natural environment while being fully present to the uniqueness of the landscape.
    Brain World, a magazine that focuses on the brain, explains that experiencing “a new environment ‘wakes up’ your brain. When we are in new environments, we switch off our autopilot. When we are going through the same actions and routines every day — going on vacation does really fire our neurons.”
  • Time away from everyday routines may be a mood enhancer. Simple things like meeting new people or eating in a different restaurant can have a positive effect on someone dealing with mental health concerns.
    Escaping to a different environment is a wonderful way to reconnect with yourself and start feeling human again, as I discovered on my trip to Bermuda.
  • Memories can help you reexperience the positive feelings from key moments. They help you revisit who you are, your accomplishments, your family and friends, and the places you visited. Such memories can boost your confidence and help sustain you during rough patches.
    Some great ways to capture a travel experience are by taking pictures and videos and making a memory box of artifacts from the trip.
    Memories are beneficial to everyone regardless of their mental health status. It’s been more than 10 years, but one of my greatest memories is of being on the beach in Barbados, floating in the turquoise waters of Dover Beach. The tranquility I felt during those moments has often resurfaced and keeps me sturdy during difficult times.
  • Visiting friends and families, especially during the holidays, is a terrific way to remain socially active. Seeing familiar people, hearing stories from the past and eating foods that you enjoy can help you feel better and allows you to step away from your situation, even if it is only for a short while.
    Engaging with others helps maintain communication skills, lets you know people still care and provides a sense of belonging. In addition, engaging with others improves your life by preventing isolation and loneliness and reducing agitation.
    Yes, it’s great to go away for a new adventure or to leave your footprints around the globe, but the advantages of travel can be much deeper, especially for travelers coping with mental health issues.

    Although traveling will not resolve everything you may be experiencing, it can bring joy into your life. A study published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal revealed that frequent travels increase happiness, especially for women. So get those travel plans going.