For starters, just planning a vacation can actually boost happiness levels. Whether it’s from the anticipation of the unknown or the excitement of planning time away, getting ready for a holiday can increase happiness in participants of one study for about 8 weeks before going away. (3)
But the real magic occurs when you vacation. Being in a new environment, particularly abroad, affects how our neural pathways respond to things – also known asneuroplasticity – and can make us more creative. When we’re in our normal, day-to-day lives, our brains can go on autopilot: they know how things work and where places are. But when our brains are exposed to new sounds, tastes and cultures, different synapses fire off in your brain, revitalizing our minds and encouraging us to try new things, if only because you’ll have to. (4)
Maybe you’re not too keen on getting in touch with your creative side. Going on vacation will help you physically, too. The Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and is still going strong, found that women who took vacations just once every six years were nearly 8 times as likely to have a heart attack than those who took one at least every two years. (5)
Vacation health benefits can change your health on a genetic level, according to science.
A recent study published in Translational Psychiatry found that both taking a vacation and meditating actually make an impact on our molecular networks. The study followed 94 healthy women between the ages of 30 to 60 years old. They all stayed at the same resort, with half simply on vacation and the other half following a meditation training program. To better understand the “meditation effect,” the scientists behind the study also followed a group of 30 experienced meditators also staying at the retreat the same week. (1)
The research team looked at changes in 20,000 genes to figure out which genes changed during and after the resort trip. The results showed that spending a week at the resort significantly changed the molecular network patterns of participants in all the groups — the vacationers, the beginner meditators and the experienced meditators.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most notable gene activity was in those areas relating to stress response and immune function. And a month after the experience was over, those newbie meditators were riding the relaxation wave with fewer symptoms of depression alongside visible stress relief compared to the non-meditating vacationers.
Essentially, while it seems logical that taking a vacation or engaging in heavy meditation would reduce stress, this is one of the first times that researchers have been able to pinpoint large changes in the body’s genes in a short amount of time.
Source: Vacation Health Benefits Including Changing Your Brain, Genes – Dr. Axe