Vacations can help you reset your health, thereby refreshing body and mind. But research at the University of California, Berkeley, shows that some vacations can profoundly improve your well-being at a cellular level.
The kind of vacation that helps the most, according to this research, is an awe-inspiring trip to a place like the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal.
The study shows that the strongly positive emotions you experience in the presence of a beautiful natural scene, powerful art or great architecture reduces levels of cells called cytokines — inflammatory natural substances that can harmfully switch the immune system into overdrive.
“Our findings demonstrate that positive emotions are associated with the markers of good health,” says researcher Jennifer Stellar.
When you suffer from an infection, cytokines place a useful role in gathering immune cells to destroy pathogenic invaders. But when cytokine levels stay elevated without a disease to fight, it can drag down your health and complicate serious conditions like type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and mood disorders.
The Berkeley researchers point out that it has been well-established that getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a good diet can help keep cytokines at optimal levels. But now positive emotions and experiences should be added to the list of helpful tools to control inflammation.
“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” says researcher Dacher Keltner.