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Vacation: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Your genes would love a vacation

“I NEED a vacation!” People say that. They don’t say, “I WANT a vacation!”  Why? It’s a matter of health. Over time, stress, working late, and those 50,000 other things that just can’t wait feel unhealthy to us. We believe that a vacation can restore our well-being.

We don’t know how right we are. New research shows that vacations go way beyond relieving stress. They affect our genes. Not only that, the kind of vacation we take can have a specific impact on our genes. We get radically different health benefits depending on where we go.


Research supports the health benefits of vacation

The news comes from a group of scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School. They recruited a group of healthy women aged 30-60, and studied the health effects of two kinds of getaways: resort vacations and meditation retreats.

The results were truly surprising.

They found that the simple vacation—six days in a relaxing resort somewhere in California—had an immediate, positive impact on stress and the immune system in the body. They also saw short-term improvements in well-being, based on the participants’ feelings of vitality and distress.

The meditation retreat, on the other hand, had a strong effect on antiviral activity, at least for those participants who already used meditation regularly. But novice meditators in the study got a boost, too. They reported fewer symptoms of depression and less stress much longer after their getaway compared to the non-meditating resort vacationers. They appeared to stay that way, too.

How could that be, the researchers wondered? It might have been because the participants had continued to meditate well after their stay. Or perhaps it was because they now looked at life differently after the experience.

There was one more possibility they didn’t mention. Maybe there was something special about the location— the Chopra Center for Well Being, designed by celebrity wellness influencer Deepak Chopra, M.D. His meditation program included training in mantra meditation, yoga, and self-reflection exercises. Dr. Chopra wasn’t involved in the experiment, so the researchers didn’t explore that option.

Benefits of vacations continue long after a guest's stay

Whatever the cause, the researchers discovered one new fact. Changes like this don’t just happen because vacations are good for our souls. They happen because our genes are acting differently. The scientists looked at 20,000 different genes, and found that they were activating different molecules in the body. That’s real biology, the kind that leads to healthier aging. It’s all good.

The takeaway lesson from this experiment is that we need more vacations. And vacation property managers should be telling customers, “Time to book a stay with us. It’s for your own good.”

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