“Who wants to live forever?” sang Queen, over a heart-wrenching montage in Highlander, of the immortal Connor MacLeod watching his beloved wife age and die as he remains in his late Twenties.
I’ll be honest, it’s not the best advert for eternal life you’ll ever see, and probably highlights why most people would answer Freddie Mercury’s question with a fairly confident “not me”.
If, however, the question is, “Who wants to live longer?” or “Who wants to live to a ripe old age?” – neither of which scan at all well to the tune – then you’ll get a universally positive response. We get one life, so it’s nice if it can go on for a while. It’s also nice if that life is full of fun, nourishing, exciting and joyous things such as seeing the world and experiencing new things.
The good news is, the relationship between those two things is a conveniently mutual one: because travel – adventure travel in particular – can actually help you live longer, which in turn gives you more time to go travelling.
So, my question is: “Who wants to know how adventure travel makes you live not forever but longer and in a more fulfilled way?” (Please don’t sing that.)
If the answer is you, read on.
It’s a great form of exercise
Let’s start with the bleedin’ obvious, shall we?
Yes, exercise is good for you. It helps your cardio-vascular system, it gets blood to your brain, it eases depression and reduces stress. It can be dynamic exercise, if that’s your cup of tea, but it doesn’t need to be.
“Our research and lots of other research confirms that physical activity is one of the keys to a long, healthy life,“ says Dr Howard Friedman of the University of California, and author of The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study.
“Physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean exercise or going to the gym, although that is fine if you enjoy it. It simply means being up and out of your chair.”
Add in adventure travel and it’s even better. You don’t run marathons through the jungle; you hike, paddle, swim, lob yourself down bloody great mountains. It’s good exercise, fun exercise, the kind of exercise you barely even notice you’re doing.
“Violent exercise isn’t good for longevity, particularly as you get older,” says Francesc Miralles, co-author of the bestselling Ikigai: the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. “But exercise is crucial to a long life and walking is the best exercise. When you travel, you walk and you don’t get tired, because you’re seeing things, stopping when you want to stop.”
It reduces stress and gives perspective
“Ooh, modern life is sooo stressful, isn’t it?” you find yourself muttering in conversation. “So much to think about, so much to do, so little time for the thinking and the doing.”
This is often said as you flick through three or four social media platforms, make note of the dozen films and TV shows you simply must watch this month, and send multiple messages to multiple people arranging to catch up over a few drinks. Thus making you your own worst enemy.
We can sometimes think that stress is a good thing, that we somehow thrive on it.
“I’m an animal!” you scream, as you complete yet another Christmas shopping trip.
And that, to a small extent, is true.
But constant stress, or simply too much of it, has been shown to shrink our life expectancy. Travel, however, reduces that stress, and not just through exercise.
“If I’m in Barcelona I have a lot of problems around me,” says Miralles. “They could be family or money or the political situation or emails. Lots of points of stress. When you break away from this, you feel free. If you have no wi-fi, or even no phone, you have no choice: messages have to wait. You are analogue again.”
With adventure travel, you also get to focus on something, a challenge.
This blocks out those nasty distractions and back-of-the-mind worries that cause anxiety (what Miralles refers to in his book as attaining ‘flow’). You can’t mull over the state of your shoe collection post-Brexit when you’re swimming with sharks.
“You get perspective, too,” he adds. “You relativise totally your own problems. You look from a distance. Spiritually, if we only have one idea of how life is, we will be in conflict all the time. We will become angry easily. If you experience many cultures, your mind broadens and you won’t be so angry so often.”
You get an adrenaline rush
Too much stress is a bad thing, but so is not enough stress.
If you have no stress, it can lead to lethargy, boredom and depression – all enemies of longevity.
What you’re looking for, as you can probably surmise from that, is just the right amount of stress. This could be stress of facing a challenge during an adventure travel trip. And, according to Miralles, a short sharp burst of adrenaline, perhaps from spotting the Big Five or kayaking down 8-meter waterfalls, can give us a welcome kick up the nether regions.
“Adrenaline puts your heart to a very fast velocity,” he says. “In some cases this can be good. When we have someone who has a feeling of depression, melancholy, of apathy, and is emotionally blocked, going to a place where you can get this adrenaline can be good. If a person is very sedentary, always at home, thinking to much, maybe riding a horse or rafting can activate energies.”
You meet new people
But it can also help you live longer, which is nice.
“Travel can promote quality time spent with a partner or one’s family,” says Friedman, “or it might lead to making new friends. Those travelling alone, with strangers, might develop new social skills. There is a lot of good evidence, in our research and others’, that having good social ties is one of the building blocks of a longer, healthier life.”
Read more: Solo travel fuels this major happiness habit
“Being with new people is relaxing,” adds Miralles. “With strangers we can be ourselves more, it’s easy to make conversation. It’s human contact of the highest quality. When we’re with strangers, we normally share good things, positive things.”
“Loneliness is the biggest killer of longevity. It produces negative feelings. You feel anxious and abandoned. It’s something ancestral – you feel protected by the tribe.”
It coaxes you outside
You’ll be shocked to learn that human beings didn’t evolve in the comfort of a three-bedroom semi in Worcester.
We didn’t crawl out of the oceans and straight into the local branch of Aldi, or learn how to make fire at B&Q. Our natural environment is on the other side of brick walls and train doors.
“People who live long lives spend most of their days outside,” says Miralles. “They get fresh air, vitamin D, the wind in their faces. Being outside stimulates our senses: our ears, eyes, noses. We’re moving our body. Being in our homes shortens our lives. We have only been living in buildings a few thousand years. Our bodies and brains are not adapted to living inside.”
You get to challenge yourself
For all the cutting down on booze and quitting smoking and eating raw tender-stem broccoli between yoga classes that we (quite rightly) associate with extending our time on this mortal coil, both of our experts found one perhaps less tangible, but almost universal trait among long-livers: curiosity.
“Curiosity is the one common factor in older people who keep young,” say Miralles. “If they stay in their apartment, watching TV and feeling abandoned, you get old quicker. But if you’re curious, you go travelling, you meet new people, see different countries, and make your body and mind work.”
“When we studied people in Okinawa aged 95 to 105, what kept them alive was their ikigai, their wish to be alive. If you have things to do, to discover, people to talk to and places to go. If you can travel, you want to feel alive.”
Friedman wholeheartedly agrees.
“First, and perhaps most importantly and intriguingly, travel can promote that sense of curiosity and persistence in learning and doing new things,” says Friedman. “In our research on The Longevity Project, we found that these characteristics helped promote longevity in various ways across time.”
So there you go.
If you want a longer, happier, healthier life, stay curious.
Go and see the world, embrace adventure travel, meet some new people, and every now and then – if you feel like it – lob yourself off a mountain.
3 adventures that might help you live to 150
Smash your comfort zone in South Africa
Sunbathing penguins, sheltered lagoons, striking mountains – South Africa really has it all. From swimming with seals to bucket list safaris, this is one for the animal lovers. It’s also one for the adrenalin junkies or simply those of you wanting to plunge out of your comfort zone like never before – ever abseiled a mountain? It’s adventure travel at it’s finest.
Climb the peaks of Peru
Put your heart right up inside your mouth as you climb over 5,000 metres to the extraordinary summit of Rainbow Mountain, take a night-time boat ride through the Amazonian jungle and see the tree-top wildlife from hanging bridges. Mountain bike the highlands of the Sacred Valley and march to Machu Picchu. Then ease off with some pisco sours in Lima.
Discover the secrets of Croatia
Adriatic holidays aren’t all about beaches, beer and fish dinners. On this trip you will sail down waterfalls on a kayaking safari and hike through the spectacular turquoise lagoons and waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Ok, there will be beaches, beer and fish dinners, as you knock back craft ales in a Zagreb beer-tasting session and explore the beaches and bars of Hvar island.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock