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The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance

Ever looked at all the challenges laid in front of you and lamented, ‘I really need a holiday’?

The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance
Every adventure requires the right protective equioment - make sure you have yours with coverage from Cigna. Photo: Getty Images

Embarking on a new adventure, far away from everyday routine, has long been celebrated. 

It’s also long been considered to have positive health benefits. In his ‘The Conquest of Happiness’, the English philosopher Bertrand Russell remarked, ‘If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.’

And it’s not just short trips abroad that have been known to revive the soul; relocating or living abroad may be even more beneficial. 

Is there any truth to the idea that a change of scenery has beneficial effects? Could adventure and exploration, in fact, be ‘the best medicine’? 

In partnership with international health insurance provider Cigna Global, we look at the evidence. 

Peace of mind

The science is reasonably unequivocal as to the effects of travel on the brain: The ‘positive effects of travel experiences on perceived health and wellness have been demonstrated by multiple studies’, as stated in a 2013 literature review by researchers from Washington State University and Texas A&M.

Over the last decade, a number of studies have lent weight to this conclusion. 

Significantly, a paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that travelling and experiencing different cultural environments, a key component of living abroad, led to more developed creative thinking skills. The mere act of recalling living experiences abroad, it found, let to a greater range of responses to a series of problems. 

Additionally, a 2018 paper published in Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes demonstrated through six studies that living abroad can improve decision-making skills. As the abstract to the paper states, ‘living abroad leads to a clearer sense of self because it prompts self-discerning reflections on whether parts of our identity truly define who we are or merely reflect our cultural upbringing’.

Even just anticipating an upcoming change of scenery can have positive mental effects. In 2020, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found 97% of respondents reported feeling happier as they planned a holiday, with the effects lasting over time – anticipation of pleasurable experiences, it seems, can be just as much of a mood-booster as the experiences themselves.

Of course, any overseas adventure will at some stage involve some language learning, and that too has been proven to improve cognitive skills. A 2012 paper in the journal NeuroImage demonstrated that learning a second language led to an increase in the brain’s ‘grey matter’ in the areas controlling language.

Bodily benefits  

Of course, more developed thinking skills will result in overall increased wellbeing – but does embarking on an overseas adventure have positive effects on physical health?

While the science here isn’t as developed as in the area of cognitive skills, studies do seem to show that this is the case. 

In 2013, the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Centre for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association published a study that found that, across genders, retirees who travelled at least once a year had a significantly decreased chance of suffering a heart attack, than those who remained at home – the mental stimulation involved playing some as yet undefined role in physical robustness.

Furthermore, a 2000 paper in Occupational Medicine found that travel often resulted in weeks of better sleep and fewer complaints of physical ailments. As bodies, such as the CDC, find that we’re increasingly not getting enough sleep, this is a particularly significant benefit. 

Time abroad can recharge and refresh you – especially if you’re fully covered in case of accident or emergency. Learn more about Cigna’s international health insurance plans 

Adventure-bound: It’s a great big world out there – make sure you’re fully covered when exploring it. Photo: Getty Images

Good for the hip pocket?  

As the science indicates, travel can, in fact, improve physical and mental health – but you might also be surprised to find that it can have benefits in terms of employment and earning opportunities. 

A 2018 survey by RAND Europe found that 80% of European scientific researchers who had opted to live and study abroad said that it improved their networks and work opportunities, and just under 40% said they had found a job as a result. 

Support for your next adventure

What are you waiting for? Venturing overseas has been shown to be good for body and mind. 

In fact, it could be exactly what you need in terms of improving cognitive skills, decreasing the risk of heart attacks and improving your sleep – and imagine the wonderful experiences you will have!

When making the leap, make sure that you have international health insurance with a reputable provider. 

With international health insurance, in case of an accident or emergency, you will have access to private hospitals as well as a global network of specialists for treatment. A good provider will also fly you home for treatment should you need it.

When evaluating international health insurance providers, consider Cigna. With a history extending two hundred years, Cigna has wide-ranging expertise about the variety of situations that travellers can find themselves in.

For the last sixty years, Cigna has been building a network of hospitals and specialists to treat customers in trouble, and now offers 24/7 phone access in English to policyholders. With Cigna, no matter where you are, or what time it is, you can access someone who can help and speaks your language. 

In addition, until the end of May, Cigna is offering a free health and well-being policy upgrade to help you on your way abroad. It includes annual routine physical examinations, preventative cancer screenings, dietician consultations and telephone wellness coaching, to make sure that many issues you may face can be avoided.

Heading abroad is medicine, in a manner of speaking. It can improve mind and body and lead to opportunities that you never dreamed of – that’s why it’s so important that you’re fully protected when you set off. 

Are you ready to try living abroad? Discover more about how Cigna helps you enjoy peace of mind as you make your move

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TRAVEL

Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Here are some of the greatest and most beautiful cycling routes across Spain for avid cyclists, from Don Quijote territory to the green north. Saddle up everyone!

Ten of the most amazing bike routes in Spain

Spain is a great country for cycling, so great in fact that it even has several dedicated cycling routes across the country called vías verdes or greenways.

These greenways were built along old disused railway lines and have now become an environmentally friendly way to explore the country (here is a map showing all the greenways).

But there are other cycling routes around Spain that are just as impressive and can be completed by avid low to mid-level cyclists.

Here are ten bike routes in Spain that will take your breath away (at times in both senses of the word).

The TransAndalus, Andalusia

The TransAndalus trail is a 2,000km (1,240 miles) long circuit specifically designed for mountain bikes. It goes through the eight provinces of Andalusia and gives experienced riders a chance to pass through incredible natural sites, such as the Sierra Nevada, Doñana and Cabo de Gata national parks. There are a total of 23 stages, meaning that you can pick and choose which one or ones you do, without having to complete the entire trail. Less experienced cyclists can choose a specific shorter section. Stage one starts in Seville and is a mostly downhill ride to Chiclana de la Frontera.

The TransAndalus passing through some of the region’s most spectacular scenery. Photo: jbdodane / Wikimedia Commons (CC 2.0)

Vía Verde de Ojos Negros, Aragon and Valencia

Running from the town of Ojos Negros, in the province of Teruel to Sagunto, on the Valencian coast, this is Spain’s longest greenway at 160km. It has been divided into two sections, so you can just choose to do one or the other if the whole route is too long. The first part follows the line of the Sierra Menera mining railway, in the Palancia river valley, while the second part descends towards the Valencian orange groves, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Cycling along the Vía Verde de Ojos Negros. Photo: Pacopac / Wikimedia Commons

Ruta Don Quijote, Castilla-La Mancha 

Lovers of literature, Cervantes and Don Quijote will enjoy this route following in the unlikely hero’s footsteps. The whole route covers 2,500km (1553.4 miles) and runs through all five of the region’s provinces, but it’s split up into 10 sections, making it easy to select which one you want to do. Declared a European Cultural Route, it travels through two National Parks, six natural parks and six nature reserves, running along a combination of cattle trails, historic paths, riverbanks and disused railway lines. 

Windmills Castilla-La Mancha

See the famous windmills of Consuegra along this cycle route. Photo: JamesHose / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Val del Zafán, Aragon and Catalonia

This spectacular route travels alongside the azure blue channels which eventually end up joining the grand Ebro River. It passes through the regions of Bajo Martín, Bajo Aragón, Matarraña, Terra Alta and Baix Ebre. Punctuated by viaducts, tunnels and protected natural spaces, it’s a pretty straight and easy greenway to follow, with some final twists and turns when you reach the Catalan coast at Tortosa near the Ebro Delta at the end. 

Ebro Delta

This route follows parts of the grand Ebro River. Photo: Future75 / Wikimedia Commons

READ ALSO: Cycling in Spain -12 fines you need to watch out for

Camino de Santiago 

Pilgrims on foot are not the only ones who can enjoy this world-famous voyage. Cyclists can choose whether to complete the full 800km (500 miles) French Way or do the minimum 200km required to obtain the precious Pilgrimage Certificate.

READ ALSO: Top tips to safely enjoy Spain’s Camino de Santiago on foot or by bike

Camino de Santiago

You can also do the Camino de Santiago by bike. Photo: Burkard Meyendriesch / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Carrilet, Catalonia

This route runs for 57km (35.4 miles), linking the town of Olot and the Garrotxa Volcanic Naural park with the city of Girona. Following the banks of the Ter, Brugent and Fluvià rivers, it winds its way between fields, forests and bridges, with the towering ancient volcanoes as your backdrop. The route is well signposted and is also suitable for hikers. 

Via verde Olot to Girona

This route begins at the otherworldly Garrotxa volcanic natural park. Photo: Peremagria / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde Tajuna, Madrid

This spectacular bike path offers city dwellers the chance to escape the hustle and bustle without planning ahead. Simply get off at the last stop on Metro line 9 (Arganda del Rey) and hop on to your bici. The route runs along the river of the same name and runs for a total of 49km (30.4), passing through the quaint towns of Carabaña, Ambite, Oruco, Tielmes or Perales de Tajuna and Morata. This cycle path is also equipped for hiking and for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

Via Verde Tajuna Madrid

You can see the ruins of the old station of Tajuna along the way. Photo: Malopez 21 / Wikimedia Commons

Vía Verde de la Sierra, Cádiz, Andalusia 

This 37km (22 mile) vía verde runs from the village of Puerto Serrano in the province of Cádiz to Olvera, a small village north-east of Ronda. It passes through no less than 30 tunnels and over four viaducts, as well as valleys and river banks. Free of traffic and a relatively easy ride overall, it’s ideal for a family day trip – and if the little ones are too tired, taxis with bicycle racks are available for the return journey.

Via Verde Cádiz

The Vía Verde de la Sierra is ideal for the whole family. Photo: El Pantera / Wikimedia Commons.

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote, Canary Islands 

Go for a ride through the land of volcanoes in Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park. Ideal for mountain bikers, there is even an 8km (5 mile) downhill track through the island’s unique landscapes and lava fields. The archipelago’s mild climate makes it a biking paradise throughout the year.

Lanzarote

Ride through the volcanic landscapes of Timanfaya National Park. Photo: Manfred Zajac / Pixabay

Vía Verde del Plazaola, Navarra and the Basque Country

One of the most beautiful greenways is the 66.5km (41.3 miles) Vía Verde del Plazaola, traversing through the regions of Navarra and the Basque Country, passing through an array of forests and meadows. 41.9km of the route passes through Navarra and 24.6km through Gipuzkoa, so you can choose which section to do. The route also takes you through many tunnels, including the longest tunnel you can cycle through in Spain. The trail takes its name from the abandoned Plazaola mines, you’ll pass along the way. 

Plazaola cycle route

The Vía Verde del Plazaola takes you through many tunnels. Photo: Cherubino / Wikimedia Commons

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