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Traveling turns back the clock

June 18th, 2014

propellerMany of us travel when we’re young, bumming around Europe in our 20s.  Some of us travel, later, and generally joylessly, for work. Others, like my in-laws, wait until they’re old to travel, booking passage on cruise ships and seeing selected port cities in a single afternoon.

We travel for many reasons: employment, enjoyment, enrichment, adventure. But traveling as an anti-aging strategy? Really?

Yes, really.

Like sipping a cappuccino or two (or three) a day or nibbling on dark chocolate, an anti-aging/ counterclockwise lifestyle means more than gym time, treadmill desks and Krunchy Kale. Actually, I love the gym. I love my new standing desk. About kale, krunchy or otherwise, the less said the better.

But the point is, it’s wrong to think of an anti-aging/ counterclockwise lifestyle as a series of must-dos, chores to tick off – from taking supplements to drinking 8 cups of water a day to getting in your 10,000 steps. A physically, intellectually and creatively youthful lifestyle is, well, fun.

I am writing this on a bus traveling from Parnu, a little town in Estonia, to Riga, the capital of Latvia that calls itself the “Paris of the Baltic.” On this trip, part business, part pleasure, I’ve spent time in Vienna, London, Stockholm, Tallinn and Parnu. After Riga I’ll have a week in Copenhagen before heading home.

Can traveling be physically tiring? Sure. It’s a chore to heft bags around. It’s sometimes hard to get a good night’s sleep in a strange bed in a strange town. Walking everywhere the way I do to explore a new place (sometimes up to 20 miles a day) is physically challenging.

So I get a work-out, which is great. But I can do that at home. The true anti-aging benefits of traveling are cognitive (both psychological and creative). Scientific research has demonstrated that travel can open up neurological pathways in our physical brains, benefitting – and, I would argue, counterclockwise-ing — our overall mental health in many ways.

We spend every day of our lives not only in a particular physical climate but also in a particular mental climate determined by our familiarity with our surroundings. Break the mental shackles caused by familiarity, and we open up a world of wider mental associations. We can’t operate on auto-pilot. We are suddenly, voraciously curious. We are a bit more daring. Our imagination takes flight as we attempt to make sense of, say, the Estonian language which seems to have more diacritical markings than it has vowels. Mental acuity, boldness, curiosity, hunger for experience, intellectual vitality, imagination — these are the markings of an energetic and youthful brain. These are the keys to an anti-aging attitude toward life. It’s not all about CoQ-10, Krunchy Kale and ab crunches. Not hardly.


One Response to “Traveling turns back the clock”

  1. brett on June 18, 2014 8:47 pm

    Wow, heading for Tallinn in two weeks! And I love walking everywhere, too. Tourist tips welcome!

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