Health benefits of holidaying
Taking regular holidays offers a wealth of physical and mental health benefits – in fact, research says getting enough holiday time may help you live longer.
Psychologist Dr Carla Manly, author of Joy from Fear, says just the process of planning a holiday brings an immediate sense of wellbeing. “Having something wonderful to anticipate gives the mind and spirit a surge of happiness,” Dr Manly says. “Particularly when issues such as burnout cause additional stress and anxiety, having upcoming travel adventures to look forward to can make all the difference in mental health and overall wellbeing.”
But when your heart is set on seriously escaping the demands of work and life, research suggests there are a handful of best places to go on holiday that will rejuvenate you the most. Science, local lore, and a bit of esoteric legend suggest some destinations go the extra mile when it comes to soothing our bodies, relieving stress, and delivering a holiday experience that really does the job.
Where are the world’s greatest places to go on holiday to relieve stress? Here are eight destinations that are said to maximally inspire awe and renewal (and that may inspire you to start searching for flights immediately).
1. Okinawa, Japan
Shinrin-yoku, which has become known as “forest bathing,” is a form of ecotherapy developed in the 1980s by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The idea of forest bathing is that spending time in nature awakens the senses to promote physical and mental health benefits. A wealth of research supports these claims.
A review of studies published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that forest bathing improves heart health, endocrine system function, metabolism, immunity, and inflammation levels, as well as psychological and emotional health.
There are dozens of certified Shinrin-yoku forests throughout Japan (and really, you can practise forest bathing in any natural surroundings). But what makes Okinawa special is that it’s one of the world’s five Blue Zones, the geographical areas where data consistently show the residents live the longest lives. Researchers have found common traits among people living in Blue Zones, such as prioritising stress relief, engaging in regular movement, following a balanced diet, and having strong social bonds.
Yanburu is a particularly popular spot for forest-bathing stress away. Located in the north of Okinawa, Yanburu is a subtropical rainforest with incredible biodiversity.
2. Grindavik, Iceland
With its towering waterfalls, vast glaciers, and dramatic landscapes, Iceland has been one of the world’s most up-and-coming travel destinations of this century. In fact, a March 2023 analysis of Google search volume named it the most popular destination for solo female travellers in 2023. But before you make a beeline for the capital city, Reykjavik, consider stopping in the less-travelled town of Grindavik.
Grindavik is a sleepy former fishing village just 20 minutes from the airport and offers easy access to many of Iceland’s top sites. Most notably, it’s home to the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal spa with a unique composition of minerals and algae not found anywhere else on Earth. Research in 2022 in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, stated that the Blue Lagoon’s waters are known to improve skin health for some of the most stubborn psoriasis cases.
The Blue Lagoon’s consistency also allows you to float weightlessly. Peer-reviewed findings in the Natural Medicine Journal in 2021 concluded that flotation therapy stimulates a “robust relaxation response,” supporting stress reduction, energy levels, and general wellbeing. The review’s authors stated that their research “revealed beneﬁts of ﬂoating, speciﬁcally regarding participants experiencing muscular pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders.”