Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
During a recent vacation in China, AARP volunteer May Uyehara did a lot of walking while sightseeing — so much so that she lost 15 pounds on the trip.
“You feel good when you come back,” said Uyehara, a retiree who volunteers in the Hawai‘i AARP office.
So it came as no surprise to May that recent AARP Travel research found that there are significant health and wellness benefits to traveling on vacation.
The online survey of 1,500 travelers found that four in five Baby Boomers reported experiencing at least one health benefit during a vacation trip and three out of four reported a post-trip health benefit. The benefits included better emotional and physical health, improved relationships and productivity at work.
There were some negative health effects to traveling, however: jet lag, for example. About 20 percent reported feeling tired after a trip. Stress can also increase during family reunions or weddings, although the stress level on average remained relatively low. Traveling during holidays was also more stressful than other kinds of vacation travel.
Some of the stress of travel can be offset by planning and being flexible when things go wrong. Just planning a vacation generally puts people in a better mood. About 86 percent of Boomers who travel report feeling happy, excited or relaxed as they make their travel arrangements for a vacation, so the benefits of vacationing start even before you go on a trip.
Most Boomer travelers attributed the health benefits of vacation travel to relaxing and having fun (72 percent), spending quality time with friends and family (67 percent) and getting out of their daily routine (63 percent). The health benefits included getting better sleep (51 percent), having more energy (50 percent), increased productivity (46 percent), improved overall health (46 percent) and mental clarity (45 percent). In addition, 54 percent reported improved emotional well-being, better connections with loved ones (52 percent) and having more energy (35 percent).
Physical benefits came from walking (63 percent of Boomers), sightseeing (31 percent), hiking (26 percent), swimming (24 percent) and going to the spa (20 percent).
The physical and mental benefits generally last well beyond the vacation itself. Most of the health benefits continued for three to four weeks after the vacation, with improved relationships with loved ones continuing for about six weeks on average.
Fatigue and other drawbacks of travel go away relatively quickly, roughly two weeks on average, although those reporting weight gain or financial strain say those negative effects can last three to four weeks.
The health benefits of travel are more of a bonus than something planned. Only 31 percent of Boomers plan a wellness activity as part of a travel vacation. Millennials and Generation X travelers are more likely to include wellness activities, with 40 percent of Gen X and 53 percent of Millennials including a wellness activity during their travel.
“Any type of travel, whether it’s a weekend getaway or a weeklong trip, can be an effective way to renew and recharge, and the benefits far outweigh the short-lived drawbacks,” said Alison Bryant, a senior vice president at AARP Research in a summary of the study.
So if you haven’t already done so, start planning a vacation trip. It’s healthy.
Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawai‘i since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.