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Travel tips

Can a vacation save your life?

Yes, if you do it right

The Vacationeer

If you’ve ever wondered about the benefits of vacation or why traveling is good for you, stop questioning. Research shows that vacations can help you live longer and maybe even save your life.

“The stress levels we're now under are five standard deviations above the mean that were developed just 35 years ago,” says Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

That's a problem, Roizen says, because stress is linked to everything from obesity and diabetes, to heart disease and dementia, and even wrinkled skin. It also weakens the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections and cancer.

But there's good news, especially for those who like to vacation.

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Women who don't take a vacation compared to women who take two weeks a year see an eight-fold difference in heart attacks and strokes, eight-fold…we think that vacations are key.

Dr. Michael Rozien
Chief Wellness Officer, Cleveland Clinic

"Vacations are very important and we have a lot of [data about] vacations and stress levels," Roizen said. "Women who don't take a vacation compared to women who take two weeks a year see an eight-fold difference in heart attacks and strokes, eight-fold. Men, about a threefold difference. So, we think that vacations are key."

Another study found that men who took three weeks or less vacations annually had a 37% greater chance of dying than those who took more than three weeks.

But not all vacations are created equal. Here are six ways to maximize the health benefits of vacations.

1. Go with people you love.

Numerous studies point to the health benefits of having a strong social support network, and a vacation can be a great way to nurture and strengthen those relationships. According to the Mayo Clinic, social support can improve the ability to cope with stressful situations, alleviate emotional distress, enhance self-esteem, and lower heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure. To give yourself the flexibility to potentially expand your social circle, consider staying somewhere with enough space to accommodate a few extra people in case you want to invite more friends or family to join you.

2. Eat well-balanced meals.

One of the great pleasures of going on vacation can be trying new and exotic foods but remember the basics of good nutrition. Cleveland Clinic experts say that over-indulging in food or alcohol may seem to relieve stress in the short term but will increase it in the long term. Also consider staying at a place with a kitchen, because while you may enjoy eating out at restaurants some of the time, having to eat out for every single meal every single day can become tiresome. Plus, having a kitchen gives you more control over what you eat because you know the ingredients. Not to mention, cooking with family and friends can be a fun and relaxing bonding experience.

3. Exercise.

There's no question that exercise reduces stress and improves health. According to Harvard Health Publishing, exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, including cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers and mood lifters. So, whether it's walking on the beach, working out at the fitness center, or attending a yoga class, a vacation – especially one in a resort setting with workout amenities – gives you a great opportunity to take care of yourself. You can also take advantage of being away from your normal routine to start a new exercise habit that you can continue long after the vacation is over.

4. Explore new places.

According to research reported by the American Psychological Association, vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety. Getting away and exploring new places stimulates your mind and may also give you an attitude boost. The APA says that even a short vacation can reduce stress, citing a small Japanese study that found just a three-day trip lowered perceived stress levels and lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

5. Catch up on Zzzs.

Many people's daily lives are packed with non-stop activity from sunup to sundown, which can lead to a constant state of stress, which in turn makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. According to the American Institute of Stress, being overworked and overstimulated without enough time to wind down can make the body confused about when it's time for action and when it's time to rest. Use your vacation to reset your body clock and get the rest you need. You may even want to sneak in a nap or two.

6. Plan ahead but be flexible.

Find ways to vacation that give you options about who to bring with you, where to go and what to do. A timeshare, for example, can offer flexibility by letting you choose bigger accommodations with home-away-from-home type conveniences. They also generally offer choices about where to stay, so you can go back to your favorite tried and true destination again and again, or branch out and explore other parts of the world.

Regardless of how you choose to do it, experts agree that vacations are good for your health – and not only because they reduce stress.

"Managing stress is absolutely key to reversing disease and preventing disease, but it isn't the only thing," said Roizen, who has authored or coauthored five number-one New York Times bestsellers. "Nutrition, exercise, avoiding toxins, getting enough sleep, all of those things are key. And all of those things you can do on vacation and do them maybe even better because you control your time on vacation."

 

Vacationeer

The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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