Why Seniors Should Keep Traveling
You might think your twilight years are a time to slow down and stick to home, but research shows travel may be the fountain of youth when it comes to maintaining your cognitive health, physical fitness and mental wellbeing. Here’s why.
Trip planning stimulates your mind and your imagination
There are so many travel opportunities, and planning is key to a successful vacation. Trip planning is an opportunity to let your imagination run wild, at least during the initial stages. Search the internet for a world of possibilities. Then narrow down your choices.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of travel planning, such as how will I get from point A to point B, involves research, calculations and critical thinking. It stimulates the neurons in your brain, which helps maintain your cognitive health. Planning and looking forward to a trip can also get you excited, boosting your endorphins and your mood.
Traveling gets you out of your comfort zone
We spend much of our everyday lives in autopilot, doing the same routine day after day. Unfortunately, too much time on autopilot is not good for our brain. Research shows that a change of scenery improves cognitive function, and that cognitive function can be improved at any age. Traveling, especially internationally, steps us out of our comfort zone in a big way. And any time you step out of your comfort zone you are expanding your cognitive muscles.
You step off the plane and suddenly you’re encountering new experiences right and left: different road signs, a foreign language and new foods, as well as cultural differences. This new landscape keeps you mentally alert and on your toes. You’re adapting to a new environment. Stepping up to the challenge. Gaining confidence. You did it. You feel good about yourself. And the next time you meet a challenge or need to adapt to change, it’s that much easier.
Learning and speaking a foreign language creates cognitive benefits
There is a wealth of information and studies on the cognitive benefits of learning a second language — especially for seniors. Learning another language can improve memory, problem-solving and critical thinking and can even delay the onset of dementia. Other benefits include an increase in reading ability, longer attention spans and an increase in the ability to focus. Language awakens another part of our brain and keeps those synapses firing.
If you speak the local language, you’ll make more meaningful connections with the people you meet. And being more engaged has cognitive benefits as well. So, start or keep learning a language and improve your brain.
Traveling motivates you to stay in shape
Let’s face it, unless you’re doing a senior citizen bus tour or a cruise, traveling requires physical stamina. You need strong muscles for enduring long flights, hauling luggage and walking through museums, historical sights and cobblestoned cities.
On my recent trip to Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, my friend and I had to climb 425 stone steps just to reach the beginning of the tour. And on 90 percent of those steps there was no handrail. It’s unfortunate that many historical attractions throughout the world are not equipped to make it easier (or even accessible) for folks with impaired mobility. For me, it’s a good motivator to travel now while I do have good mobility and for keeping up my weekly exercise routine. We all want to keep our flexibility and strength for as long as possible and travel can be the catalyst.
Travel expands your mind and your spirit, and improves mental health
Our ability to grow spiritually, emotionally and intellectually never ceases. Travel is one of the most transformative experiences you can have. It’s a living, breathing classroom to learn about people, culture, lifestyles, food, history and so much more. Even when you return to a place you’ve visited before, there is always something new to learn and new people to learn from.
We cannot help but be transformed from the experience of travel. It opens our minds and our hearts and most importantly, we come to a greater understanding of ourselves.
No matter what your age, I hope you will continue to travel and to enjoy the journey.