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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
Discovering all the places you've dreamed of visiting? International health insurance is a must. 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, led 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.

Planning your next summer holiday? Remove worry and make sure you’re covered with international health insurance from Cigna Global 

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

VIDEO: 7 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

From Alpine valleys to the Mediterranean coastline via viaducts, gorges and vineyards - France boasts plenty of stunningly beautiful train journeys. Here's our pick of some of the most spectacular.

VIDEO: 7 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

There’s no doubt that train travel is having a bit of a moment, as travellers shun planes for the greener and more relaxing alternative of the railways – French rail operator SNCF has added an extra 500,000 seats to cope with soaring demand this summer.

With its high-speed TGV network, France is particularly good at train travel. But as well as being better for both the planet and your sense of adventure, railways have one extra advantage – great views.

Here’s our pick of seven breathtaking rail journeys in France that will show you way train travel is still the best travel.

The Côte d’Azur

A – very affordable – train journey along the coast of the Côte d’Azur is one of the great French travel experiences – the train hugs the cliffs on one side, as the sea laps against the coast on the other. 

Head from Marseille to Nice – and perhaps on to Monaco, Menton and Italy – on the Marseille-Ventimiglia line – passing through the glamorous Riviera resorts of Cannes and Antibes, as well as Juan-les-Pins, and Villefranche-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail if you opt to head towards the Italian border.

La Ligne des Hirondelles

This two-and-a-half hour, 123 km journey between Dole and Saint-Claude in eastern France on a typically comfortable TER train passes far too quickly.

It goes through the forest of Chaux, the Jura vineyards, the valley of Grandvaux, the Valley of Bienne… not to mention crossing 36 tunnels and 18 viaducts.

A joy from start to finish.

La Ligne de Cerdagne

If you haven’t heard of the train jaune, you’re in for a thoroughly pleasant surprise.

A true emblem of the south west, the yellow train travels the heights of the Pyrénées-Orientales through forests, chasms, gorges, viaducts, past old fortresses and a precariously perched monastery on a 63k m picture-postcard journey between Villefranche-de-Conflent and Latour-de-Carol, nearly 1,600m above sea level.

Two types of trains operate on this route, a modern enclosed train as well as an older historic train that sometimes runs with open carriages when mountain weather allows.

Le train de Montenvers

Not to be outdone by those upstarts in the Pyrenees, the Alps has the bright red train de Montenvers, which climbs from the Chamonix valley around Mont Blanc, before stopping at the Mer de Glaces all year round.

In winter, you can watch skiers doing their thing on the slopes. In summer, the stunning scenery will just have to do…

La Ligne des Cévennes

The 304 km journey from Clermont-Ferrand to Nîmes never looked so good, passing through astonishing landscape including the spectacular Gorges de l’Allier and the peaceful Cévennes national park.

The train route also crosses numerous equally astonishing 19th-century bridges and viaducts – including the twin curved 433m Chapeauroux Viaduct, and the 409m Chamborigaud Viaduct.

Le Mastrou

The age of steam still has the power to get rail travel lovers all emotional.

The 130-year-old Le Mastrou train travels from Tournon-Saint Jean through the stunning Ardèche landscape, crosses the Gorges du Doux for a relaxing lunch in the picturesque town of Lamastre in the mountains. 

Interloire

One for cyclists – the link between Orléans and Le Croisic, on the Atlantic coast, cuts through the painfully pretty Loire Valley and passes through Nantes and Angers, following the Loire à Vélo path. In summer, cycles can be safely stored for the journey in a dedicated wagon.

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