Living Well

Hit the Road for
Better Health

By Pamela A. Keene  |  Photography courtesy of Pixabay

Traveling is good for the mind and soul, say health experts, so what are you waiting for?

   How do you pick your ideal vacation? Are you a beach and water baby or do the mountains float your boat? Both destinations have their benefits, and both can be easily accessible for a long weekend, a week or longer. And the added payoff of a trip away can be healthier you.

   The advantages of a beach vacation can tip the scales: Sunshine provides vitamin D. Sunlight can help decrease depression. The minerals in sea water, including salt, can reduce aches and pains. Being at the beach or near a lake or river can also help you unplug.

   The mountains provide quiet getaways surrounded by the sounds of nature. Tall trees and babbling streams can create a relaxing soundtrack for reflection. Fresh air, mountain trails, and hiking to waterfalls can invigorate the soul.

   Mississippi and the Southeast offer one of the latest trends in vacations—glamping. Choose a tiny cottage near a lake, a semi-permanent safari tent complete with air conditioning, or a tin-roofed upper-story treehouse with a kitchen and bath for accommodations that are rustic but come with all the comforts of home. Glamping gives you a chance to get close to nature and become immersed in your surroundings.

   “Selecting a vacation destination is completely up to a person’s likes, interests and passions,” says Oxford, Miss., psychologist Ashley Dickey. “Select a place where you feel most connected, somewhere you can be in the moment.”

   Vacations provide a chance to recharge, to get away from daily stressors, and to check out for a bit. But how many people simply put off taking time away? How many vacation days do you leave on the table each year? Many people say they’re too busy to take a vacation, but at what cost?

   “Vacationing and traveling are part of self-care and being in the present,” Dickey says. “Both factors are important to a person’s overall well-being. Being out of the everyday norm and venturing out helps decrease stress levels and increase positive thoughts.”

   Scholarly articles and media sources suggest traveling supports a strong correlation between self-care and physical well-being.

   “When self-care is achieved, the brain produces natural serotonin, promoting happiness, positive feelings, and a good sense of well-being,” she says. “Traveling also heightens the present-moment state, which helps you be more mindful and cognizant of the here and now.”

   A recent article about travel and health by Sarah Shields, director of industry communications for the U.S. Travel Association, puts it succinctly: “Travel has a positive impact on so many aspects of our lives: from the memories it helps us create with family and friends to the trillions in economic impact it delivers and the millions of American jobs it supports.”

   Australian travel blogger Sarah Blinco recently wrote in her blog “Travel Live Learn” about taking a nine-month sabbatical from work to rediscover her health and happiness. She and her husband, Cooper, realized that their stressful jobs threatened their mental health and well-being. They made a plan and saved up to fund their travel. To help make ends meet, they combined some freelancing with house-sitting.

   Six months into their journey, the couple found that negative feelings melted away, allowing them to focus on the here and now. Along the way, they have been taking unplanned adventures, including sunrise yoga classes on the beach, mountaintop cooking classes in Spain, and experiencing the lives of the locals.

   She shares some valuable lessons.
   “If you’re unhappy in your situation, getting away can be the best way to clear your head and gain perspective,” Blinco says. “Over the past six months, we’ve enjoyed the freedom to exist in new places, get curious and motivated, and clear out brain clutter.”

   In reality, not everyone can take extended time off work or escape daily life long-term, but taking that first step can open doors.

   “The duration of a vacation is not significant as long as the person is being mindful in the present,” Dickey says. “Even a long weekend away can help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression significantly.”

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