Travel has long been associated with wellness at virtually every age: it breaks up routines, pushes the reset button on our lives, and we encounter new places, people, and things.  When young, we think of summer camp or family vacations. For high school and college agers, we think of gap year travel or “study abroad” programs. In adulthood, we think of travel as a way to relax, easing the stresses and strains of our hectic work and family lives.

During midlife and older years, travel takes on a whole new importance. More than a third of all leisure travelers in the US are over 55, according to AARP, and half of all money spent each year on travel is by this age group. Because lifestyle enrichment plays a critical role in maintaining brain resiliency as we age, high levels of travel among older people can be great for our brain health. How a person lives each day can make a huge difference in keeping brains healthy, even influencing the delay or prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

This new concept in wellness travel is emerging to improve not only the health of our body, but also our brain. The Global Coalition on Aging, in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association, has released studies highlighting a clear connection between travel and wellbeing. The complexities of travel are shown to sharpen travelers’ brains as well as protect them from heart disease. The Framingham Heart Study cites numerous findings linking health and travel, including one that found women ages 45 to 64 who vacationed at least twice a year had a significantly lower risk for developing heart attacks or coronary death, compared with woman vacationing every six years or less.

By its very nature, travel encourages people to be active, make new friends, explore, and set time aside for both play and restoration. Travel has the potential to ‘light up the brain’ across a diverse range of neural pathways, leading to many health and cognitive benefits.  For example, travel kick-starts a brain that has become mired in everyday routines. As people move into adulthood and retirement years, they gravitate toward routine activities and often avoid new experiences. In their quest to be more comfortable, they can deny themselves the joys and frustrations of facing challenges. We can fall into the trap of habituating ourselves to familiar tasks at work and at home with less time spent on exploration and play. In contrast, children and young adults tend to spend a lot of time in playful activities with friends, and a lot of time exploring, at school and elsewhere. Brains adhere to the “use it or lose it” rule, meaning pathways people use the most are strengthened, while sadly, those that are neglected become weak.

Turn your next trip into powerful and long lasting brain‐boosting experiences with these four tips:

  1. Find and choose joyous experiences
  2. Be curious – seek out the new and different
  3. Care for others – whether its your own family or those you meet
  4. Play, rest, reflect on life – take time to restore your inner reserves

Based on the discovery of neuroplasticity, we know brains continue to grow and change throughout life. This means it’s never too late to learn new skills and benefit from a balanced menu of healthy activities. Travel is a wonderful way to take advantage of this gift by engaging in a variety of experiences that activate vital brain networks to keep brains healthy for a lifetime.

Stay tuned for our upcoming travel series;

How Travel “Lights Up Your Brain”

  1. Vacations really can add years to brain health and longevity!
  2. Turning art, music and architecture into brain boosters
  3. Why even trying to speak a foreign language is good for your brain
  4. How new experiences and learning about the world work magic on your brain
  5. Meaningful connections on the road can change your life and rewire your brain
  6. What does cultural immersion have to do with vitality and longevity?
  7. Why travel plans that go wrong can be good for your brain, but luxury may not be!

Featured photo credit: World In Your Hands Concept Map – Ed Gregory via stokpic.com

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