Why holidays are healthy

Your long-awaited holiday is just around the corner and you are looking forward to a good rest and a chance to let your hair down. But a holiday break offers more health benefits than meets the eye.It’s the ideal opportunity to get in shape and discover new experiences that can be integrated into your life back home.

According to sports dieticians it’s possible to lose two pounds a week with a small amount of daily exercise on holiday.

And, tasting new dishes could expand your cooking repertoire and become the start of a healthier lifestyle. Although sunlight can cause skin cancer, there is some evidence to suggest that its rays can actually help prevent some illnesses.

Here, we look at why holidays are good for your mind and body

Food

According to nutritionists variety really is the spice of life. Research from Japan concludes that if you increase the variety of food you eat on a typical day, you’re more

likely to meet the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals (five portions of fresh, canned, frozen or dried fruit and veg a day) needed to fight disease and maintain healthy bones and organs.Spending time in a hot country means you can indulge in plenty of salads, fresh fruit and juices.

‘Mediterranean cuisine tends to contain a wide variety of seasonal vegetables and many tropical countries offer an abundance of exotic fruit. If you enjoy new food, you’re more likely to continue eating it once you get home. And by recreating your favourite dishes, you can pretend you are on holiday at home.’

But, she warns, it can take several days for your stomach to adapt to a new diet.

‘If you notice more bloating than usual, caused by fibre absorbing water in the gut, don’t panic. This means your stomach is simply adapting to new food,’ she says.

Sun

The message that sunlight can cause skin cancer is loud and clear. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Around 50,000 people are diagnosed with the illness each year. Of these, more than 2,000 are likely to die from the condition.

However, evidence suggests that sunlight can help prevent some conditions. Lack of sunlight is thought to trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a depressive condition experienced in the winter months. So if you suffer from bouts of sadness, going on holiday may help to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Research also shows blood levels of vitamin D are lowest in winter months when the sun is rarely out. When exposed to sunlight, the body has the ability to convert vitamin A from the sun into vitamin D. This helps strengthen the immune system and is needed to bind calcium to bones and generates teeth development.

Sleep

Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep. Sleep deprivation through stress or work can lead to poor mental performance, premature ageing and even illness.

While we are asleep our bodies undergo certain important processes – from repair and renewal to energy restoration. According to scientists, deep sleep – rather than length of sleep – is the time when the brain recharges itself so we can function effectively during the day.

Sleep is also important for our immune system – the part of the body that is responsible for fighting infection. Some scientists believe that during sleep we secrete higher levels of cortisol – the hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that protects the immune system – than during the day.

Exercise

With more time to spare on holiday, take the opportunity to walk or cycle – rather than taking the car.

‘An ideal way to lose weight is to jog along the beach at sunrise or sunset. Jogging on sand makes you work harder because all your lower leg and ankle muscles are helping to keep you balanced.’

Water aerobics is a good all-round exercise. Working against the water provides cardiovascular exercise – where the heart beat is raised – and also tones the major muscle groups.

For a more gentle work out, several laps in the swimming pool or sea can help you keep in shape. Because your body is supported in the water, you are unlikely to strain any muscles, but swimming is a great way to stretch your body and keep it supple.

Social games including beach volley ball, badminton and tennis – or even using a pedallo – can all encourage the body to burn up fat without even noticing it!

Sea water

Research shows that listening to water alters wave patterns in the brain – in the same way that meditation does. This means hearing the sound of lapping waves or cascading waterfalls on holiday can help rejuvenate the mind and body.

The movement of water also has a positive effect on our minds. The purifying nature of water helps spring clean the body because it encourages our bodies to connect with their natural flow – or rhythm. This contrasts with struggling up stream when dealing with our daily lives.’

Salt water from the ocean also has the added benefit of containing detoxifying properties. Salt is known to draw out the body’s impurities leaving you feeling clean and rejuvenated.

Once back at home, you can maintain your detox and recreate a sense of the ocean by bathing in epsom salts. Alternatively, treat yourself to a flotation tank session – a sound-insulated tank containing a shallow saline pool kept at body temperature. It is said one hour in a flotation tank is the equivalent to a day’s holiday!

Memories

Holidays often evoke happy memories. Harnessing memories can be used as an effective relaxation aid to alter wave patterns in the brain – similar to meditation. This is the stage when the brain moves into alpha waves – the stage just before sleep when your body is calm and relaxed.

‘Thinking back to your holiday relaxes the mind because mental imagery releases endorphins -natural feel-good hormones released by the brain. This image can be useful to call up before a nerve-racking experience – for example public speaking or visiting the dentist.’

Laughter

If you’re enjoying yourself on holiday, you’re more likely to laugh. And laughter really is the best medicine, according to recent research. A good belly laugh can strengthen the immune system by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals. This can help reduce the risk of disease – from heart conditions to allergic reactions and arthritis.

Studies have shown that watching stand-up comedy has a significant effect on depression. Cardiac patients who watched funny videos during recovery were less likely to suffer a second heart attack than those who did not.

Laughter is the best medicine.
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