It’s certain most of us find happiness when we travel, here we look at how hitting the road can keep you both happy and healthy
Travel gives us beauty, colour, perfumes, views, new topics of conversation, and it means that we usually spend more time outside. This stimulates vitamin D production, which helps dispel vague aches and pains. More than half of the UK population has insufficient levels of vitamin D and many have such symptoms as a result.
Daylight also helps readjust melatonin levels – the hormone secreted during the hours of darkness that facilitates restful sleep. Levels fall when you have jetlag (as well as when you age and in irritable bowel syndrome). Good levels appear to offer protection against breast and prostate cancer. Melatonin supplements – which are usually more competitively
priced abroad – don’t need to be prescribed in the US.
Top tip: Get over jetlag faster by exposing yourself to as much natural light as possible at your destination – get outside or, if you are inside, then sit by large windows. If you must sleep during the daytime, nap for no more than one or two hours in order to stay awake until 10pm local time.
Humans are most fulfilled when they have good social networks. Travel offers opportunities to share experiences with new people. The fact that you’re an outsider also makes you
a minor celebrity – you feel special, and have time to take an interest in new acquaintances.
Research shows that happiness spreads better then unhappiness. Meeting fulfilled spiritual peoples can be especially uplifting; for example, happiness is a goal for Buddhists, and some travellers opt to attend enriching self-exploratory courses.
Top tip: Courses and workshops introduce you to kindred spirits and make it even easier to make social links.
Many travel experiences produce an adrenalin buzz. The body makes endorphins – natural opiates produced during excitement, love, even the consumption of spicy food. The good and bad stresses of travel stimulate endorphin production, as do exercise, outdoor sports and managing something scary, such as a via ferrata or bungee jump. It’s always good to return home with your neurotransmitters stimulated and some goals achieved.
There is also a lot of joy to be had in reflecting on past journeys and experiences as well as planning the next exploit.
Top tip: Water sports such as rafting are invigorating, allow you to see spectacular scenery and stimulate adrenalin. The scarier the challenge you succeed in, the better
you’ll feel afterwards – but make sure you’re insured.
Serotonin is probably the best known of the natural hormones that promote feelings of wellbeing; it’s also key to healthy memory. A diet that increases the ratio of tryptophan to phenylalanine and leucine will increase serotonin levels. Fruits with a good ratio include dates, papayas and bananas, which are cheaper, tastier and more readily available in exotic destinations. Foods with a lower ratio inhibit the production of serotonin,
such as whole grains.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure, attachment and love, for appetite control, being able to focus on tasks, and muscle control. Antioxidants, seafood and foods rich in protein, and especially the amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine help increase dopamine in the body and the brain. Sources of phenylalanine are high-protein foods such as meat, cottage cheese and wheat germ.
Top tip: Stimulate your serotonin levels by eating dates, papayas, bananas, lean meat, flaxseed, buckwheat, fish and seafood, eggs, sour cherries and dark chocolate.
‘A change is as good as a rest’ is a truism, but new environments make it easier to leave your troubles behind. Stresses stay at the office while you recharge your batteries. You have time – at last – to rest and to enjoy.
Top tip: Water has a calming effect on most people and concentrating on an image of the sea or a river can help if you’re tense on the plane. Being close to animals is also soothing – many trips and safaris allow close encounters.
Some people travel with a specific health agenda – to get a little body-enhancing surgery or a cheaper dental procedure – while others take the opportunity to indulge in an exotic massage, spa or acupuncture. Indian hairdressers and barbers all offer head massage as part of even the cheapest cut – you emerge from the salon looking and feeling good.
Top tip: Seek out a local traditional therapist who can improve your mood through hands-on treatments such as Thai or ayurvedic massage.
Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth usually scores high on happiness surveys. For more useful advice and tips, go to www.wilson-howarth.com.