Traveling a ton may leave you bleary eyed and fatigued — or even "annoyed" if you're jet-setting supermodel Kendall Jenner — but don't unpack your suitcase so fast. It turns out that, contrary to how it can sometimes feel, traveling frequently may actually be good for your health.
Unless you're traveling to outer space (here's lookin' at you, Richard Branson), your immune system can actually get a healthy boost with all the hustle, bustle, and shuffling between destinations and exposure to a certain degree of microorganisms.
"Our immune systems can recognize several microbial species as either harmless or beneficial," explains Jason Tetro, Visiting Scientist at the University of Guelph and author of the bestselling book, The Germ Files. "When immunity encounters these species, it becomes more balanced, and less likely to develop allergies and inflammation, the latter of which is well known to contribute to numerous chronic diseases."
So basically the universe wants us to take more vacations, right?
"Microbes are everywhere so always expect to be exposed to them. Most are harmless but those capable of making us sick are usually found in areas where humans tend to gather. So, surfaces in hotel rooms, airport, airplanes, and other vessels, restaurants, and recreational areas like concert venues or sports arena will be rife with human microbes amounting to hundreds per square inch."
Heading to the airport or to a semi-questionable all inclusive resort doesn't exactly make you superhuman in terms of immunuty, but according to a study conducted by Stanford University, it does help your body's long-term memory of which germs it has previously recorded a response to. The study goes beyond just the concept of microbial memory and shows evidence that our immune systems can even be kickstarted when protozoan, viral, microbial, or fungal pathogens are encountered again in the future — you know, like in an airplane full of people from every corner of the earth.
"You are less likely to get sick from these sources than from a person coughing or sneezing on you," shares Tetro.
It turns out that the exposure that doesn't make us sick often has the ability to strengthen and enhance our own supply of antibodies.
It's not quite as easy as hopping into a moldy, two-star hotel tub though — or hotel bed sheets that may not be clean (yuuuuck): You still need to be a responsible human when traveling, stresses Deena Blanchard, physician partner at Premier Pediatrics NYC and Brooklyn.
"Germs can be spread from person to person in a variety of different ways. The most common way is through contact with an infected individual or an object an infected individual has touched. Contaminated food is another way for germs to spread. This can happen when someone with unclean hands is involved in food preparation, or when raw meat or poultry comes into contact with foods that are not going to be cooked such as a salad. In all these cases, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and frequent hand washing is very important!"
Beyond just the exposure to relatively safe microbes, more and more travelers are actually hopping on flights to pursue wellness tourism — with popularity jumping by double-digit numbers in recent years. The combination of immune-boosting exposure, fitness, and the general trend towards healthier vacationing is proving frequent travel to be powerful health enhancer.
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