Winding queues to get into an airport, waiting all day to get on a ferry, last minute cancellations, train strikes. The travel chaos that many have experienced so far this summer might deter others from going on vacation at all, but I sincerely hope not.
Going on vacation isn’t just an opportunity to get away from it all; studies have revealed some unexpected benefits, so much so that academics from Edith Cowan University in Australia published a paper last month arguing that we should view vacations not as recreation but as “travel therapy.”
They say that outings can be especially beneficial for your brain, as they provide sensory and cognitive stimulation, and can be seen as an ‘intervention’ for people with dementia, for example, much like exercise or art therapy.
One of the most obvious benefits I have when I leave is that I sleep better. Normally I wake up around 3 am and have to go to the toilet, then I often have trouble getting back to sleep. But when I’m on vacation, I find it much easier to drop off again.
The travel chaos that many have experienced so far this summer might turn others off the idea of vacation – but I sincerely hope not
And this seems to be quite common. In a 2006 study in New Zealand, a group of volunteers about to leave were subjected to a battery of tests and then asked to wear sleep monitors on their wrists. After going on vacation for a few days, researchers found that the volunteers got an extra hour of good-quality sleep each night, on average, compared to a normal night. And their mood and reaction times also improved.
Part of this is probably due to the fact that you feel less stressed after a few days of vacation (unless of course you’ve also lost your luggage…), but it could also be because you sleep in a different bed and in one. A different environment helps break some of the negative connections bad sleepers have at home with their bed.
Poor sleep can sometimes turn into a phobia – you learn to associate going to bed with waking up at 3 a.m. and staying awake. The more often this happens, the more likely it will continue to happen.
Being on vacation, somewhere else, can break this negative association. And this can continue after you return.
Another important benefit of being on vacation is the impact it has on your heart. In 2019, researchers from Syracuse University in the US invited 63 people to a lab where they had blood tests done. They also filled in details about vacations they had taken the previous year.
Sleeping poorly can sometimes turn into a phobia – you learn to associate going to bed with waking up at 3 a.m. and staying awake. The more often this happens, the more likely it will continue to happen. Being on vacation, somewhere else, can break this negative association
The researchers specifically tested for metabolic syndrome, a combination of high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood fats and a larger waistline. If you have metabolic syndrome, you are at high risk of heart attack or stroke.
Some of the volunteers had taken many short breaks, others none.
It found that the risk of metabolic syndrome dropped by nearly a quarter for every additional vacation people took. Bryce Hruska, a psychological stress expert who led the study, pointed out that while we don’t yet know why going on vacation is so good for our hearts, studies show it clearly is.
He added that despite the fact that Americans are typically entitled to only ten days of paid leave per year, “less than half are using all available time.”
This trend also exists in the UK. Even before the current travel chaos kicked in, surveys showed that nearly one in three British workers said they didn’t claim their full holiday entitlements every year due to the workload and worries that more would pile up during their absence. I think that’s a big mistake, given the benefits a break can bring.
But what kind of holiday suits you best? While you don’t need to visit a tropical hotspot (I’m on holiday on the UK’s south coast this year), the evidence suggests you should head to the sea.
A study last year in the journal Scientific Reports, which surveyed more than 16,000 people, found that those who said they’d visited the coast in the past month reported higher happiness rates and fewer mental problems than those who didn’t. I’m not surprised. I like walking along the coast. Just sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, puts me in a relaxed state. And this connection we have with blue spaces goes back tens of thousands of years.
When our ancestors first started spreading around the world, they hugged the coast or went up rivers, close to the water. So I can’t help but feel that our love for the sea is deeply entrenched.
Wherever you go this summer, I hope your trip goes smoothly and, even if it doesn’t, remember the benefits you can have when your vacation really starts.
Stop the illegal sale of vaping to children
A few years ago I made a documentary about vaping and asked the question: are e-cigarettes a miracle or a threat? I came to the conclusion that vaping is less harmful than smoking, but certainly not harmless if you don’t smoke.
That’s why I’m concerned about the recent increase in vaping among children.
I’ve never smoked before, but as part of the documentary I vaped for a month to see what impact it would have.
For those who have never tried it, an e-cigarette contains a battery that powers a heating element, which converts a liquid containing nicotine and flavorings into a vapor, which you then inhale. There is no combustion and thus fewer harmful chemicals than in traditional cigarettes.
In the beginning I had to cough a lot, but after a while I started to enjoy the ‘hit’, which was like drinking a cup of strong coffee. I was not hungry and after a month I was happy to stop.
A few years ago I made a documentary about vaping and asked the question: are e-cigarettes a miracle or a threat? I came to the conclusion that vaping is less harmful than smoking, but certainly not harmless if you don’t smoke
Although there were signs of increased inflammation in my lungs, these quickly disappeared when I finished the experiment. After talking to many scientists, I came to the conclusion that vaping was much safer than smoking and would probably do more good than harm because the devices can help people quit smoking.
But I had underestimated the growing power of social media. In the UK it is illegal to sell vapes to under 18s and there are strict rules about how it can be advertised.
But despite this, a recent YouGov survey of 11 to 17-year-olds found that the number of regular vapers had nearly doubled in the past two years, from 4 percent in 2020 to 7 percent in 2022. The proportion of children who admitted to trying to smoke vaping, too, rose from 14 percent to 16 percent.
And the biggest influence? Social media. Nearly half said they started after watching vape videos on TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat.
The only good news was that smoking rates among children have fallen over that period.
It really is time for the government to enforce existing laws and crack down on the illegal sale of vapes to children.
If you have hay fever, will you have complaints for longer this year?
I am allergic to grass pollen, but normally I have stopped sneezing in July. This year I’m still going.
Some scientists think the extended season may be due to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, or because we’re exposed to more air pollution, which can increase the allergic response. Anyway, it looks like I’ll have to carry on my antihistamines a little longer.
Why life is sweet with less sugar
If I could go back in time and give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to take better care of my teeth.
After another visit to the dentist, I can now look forward to more root canal treatments. To avoid it, I would advise my former self to cut down on fizzy drinks and fruit juices, and eat my sweets all at once, not spread out throughout the day. That way, my enamel would have a better chance of survival, because the bacteria in my mouth turn sugar into acid.
I would also suggest replacing some candies with sugar-free gum with xylitol, which has an antimicrobial effect and generates saliva to flush out the acid. And I would warn him about dried fruit, which is high in sugar and sticks to the teeth, and the dangers to the enamel of eating chips, which turn into sugar and acid in the mouth.
I would encourage him to floss, brush his teeth twice a day and check them regularly, to catch decay early.
If the younger Michael had done all that, the older Michael would have been spared a lot of pain and expense.
I would encourage him to floss, brush his teeth twice a day and check regularly to catch decay early