Traveling as you age can improve your mental, emotional, and physical health.
We are living longer and longer lives these days.
The 2016 “State of Aging and Health” report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the population of Americans age 65 and older will double in the next 25 years to about 72 million people. And the men and women moving into this demographic want to continue living an active, healthy, interesting lives.
One of the best ways to do that? Travel, which brings with it a host of physical and mental health benefits.
Mood and mental health
A 2013 survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 86 percent of the people they talked to said travel improves their general mood and outlook about life.
That 86 percent isn’t wrong. For older adults, travel can be a way to experience social interaction, create stronger ties to loved ones, and promote healthy relationships. Loneliness and isolation have been linked to depression, poor mood, and even higher blood pressure in older populations. Travel to visit friends and family can minimize loneliness and promote good mental and emotional health.
Other research has found that travel promotes what the study’s authors call “spiritual benefits” of traveling as you age. These include generating meaning in your life, improving your understanding of others, and improving your relationship with nature.
Travel creates opportunities for you to meet new people, explore new environments, and engage in activities that are different from your normal routine. All these interactions challenge and stimulate your brain, keeping your mind alert and creating new neural pathways that may help prevent cognitive decline.
Some research has even found that social and leisure activities such as travel can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Travel isn’t just good for your mental and emotional health. It can also help you stay physically healthy and may even protect your heart.
The long-term Framingham Heart Study found that women who vacationed only every six years were at a higher risk for heart disease than their peers who traveled less.
A study of middle-aged men published in 2000 found similar results. Participants who were at high risk for coronary heart disease were less likely to suffer from, and especially die of, heart disease the more frequently they vacationed.
Some studies speculate that these benefits could be partly due to the break from everyday stress that travel provides. Travel also involves physical activity and exercise, which the American Heart Association reports can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Staying healthy while traveling
If you are going to continue traveling as you age, it’s important to stay safe and healthy so that you can enjoy the physical and mental benefits that a vacation brings.
If you take medications, be sure you have them with you when you travel, as well as any prescription information in case you need a refill. If you are flying, keep medications in your carry on so they don’t get lost. And if you are planning to travel out of the country, be sure to visit your doctor for any necessary vaccines.
When traveling abroad, AARP recommends making sure that your insurance will cover you if you have any sudden health problems or emergencies. If it does not, you may want to buy a supplemental health insurance policy that is intended for travel.
If you need help managing bags or have a limited range of movement, you may be able to request assistance getting to and from airports and at many hotels. You can also ask to have a wheelchair waiting for you if you are worried about moving through a busy airport. Remember, it’s better to stay safe and ask for help than risk a fall or other injury.
April 07, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN