By Chronos Kwok and Moana Jagasia
Everyone loves going on holiday. From graduation trips to the annual family vacation, travelling has always been something people plan for and look forward to. Many may not know this, but travel can also have a positive impact on the healthy ageing process.
Research findings from the Framingham Heart Study show that women who vacationed every six years or less are at a greater risk of developing heart failure compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year. In another study done on middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease showed that men who did not take annual vacation had a 20% higher risk of death. Perhaps one of the most important health benefits of travel and vacation is the reduction of stress. According to data from the Mayo Clinic, not taking a break from everyday stressors can increase the level of stress hormone in the body, which speeds up the ageing process.
Be it a walk on the beach, sightseeing in the city, or visiting a museum, travel enables us to experience an increase in physical activity. Older people who maintain the right amount of physical activity have lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, as well as a lower risk of falling. Navigating through an unfamiliar city, learning simple words in a new language and experiencing a different culture are mental activities that can help to stimulate the mind and boost cognitive functioning for older people.
When asked to rank the things retirees aspire most to do, respondents to the Aegon’s Retirement Survey ranked travel first among their aspirations, tied with spending time with friends and family. The luxury of having free time post-retirement is what many look forward to in their golden years, having spent much of their life earning to provide for themselves and their loved ones. The prospect of visiting new places and being exposed to new experiences is not only exciting but also, a reward to compensate for the missed opportunities in earlier years.
Besides the physical and mental benefits listed above, travel enables older people to remain socially connected to the world around them and preventing the likelihood of social isolation. Taking a trip with the extended family or visiting a loved one in another country also provides older people with opportunities for intergenerational social connections. Depending on the nature of the trip arrangements, travelling can also reinforce the sense of independence and autonomy amongst older people. Being able to make choices about how they spend their time can be especially meaningful and empowering, often in contrast to a more mundane routine back home.
Aspirations of older people are just as important as their perceived needs. In thinking about the ‘needs’ of older people, we are quick to account for food, housing and healthcare costs but rarely beyond that. Recreational needs, such as travel for older people, are no different than for the rest of us; we all seek activities that create meaning with a measure of quality in our lives. In the absence of full-time work and with family members leading their individual busy lives, it is even more important that older people remain occupied in ways that are engaging and empowering for them.
The invigoration that comes with travelling for older people is, therefore, very much tied to the dignity of the ageing process. Given the many tangible benefits, it is only natural that travel plans are budgeted for as part of post-retirement expenses. Regardless of duration and destination, going on vacations can no longer be deemed as ‘excessive’ or ‘unnecessary’ spending, but rather, needs to be accounted for as part of a comfortable quality of life.
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Gump, B. et al. “Are Vacations Good for your Health? The 9-year Mortality Experience After the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.” Psychosomatic Medicine. 62 (2005): 608-612. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11020089
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. “Healthy Aging.” (2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-aging/MY00374
Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2013: The Changing Face of Retirement. http://www.aegon.com/Documents/aegon-com/Insight/Retirement-readiness/Aegon-Retirement-Readiness-Survey-2013.pdf
Destination Healthy Aging: The Physical, Cognitive and Social Benefits of Travel. (2018). Global Coalition on Ageing. https://globalcoalitiononaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/destination-healthy-aging-white-paper_final-web-1.pdf