Cruises have been getting some negative press in the past year or two, with all the fires breaking out aboard, engine trouble, and let's not forget the fate of the Costa Concordia in Europe. But cruise enthusiasts like to think those occurrences are the exception to the rule (and being an enthusiast myself, I agree).
In fact, a cruise is a great venue for a get-away... not only from a vacation perspective, but also from a health perspective.
In the past, cruises have gotten a bad health rap for encouraging over-indulgence. I've been on plenty of cruises myself, and I can tell you that the five-course meals and midnight buffets can be a diet buster. But things are a'changing. These days, taking a cruise can be a truly healthy experience - for body and mind.
Like I said, the meal options on cruises have a reputation of being, shall I say, glutton-like? But recently, cruise ships have listened to the voices of the health-conscious and now offer reduced fat/reduced calorie/reduced sodium dishes. On one cruise line, these options are referred to as their "spa" fare. There's no harm in partaking in items from the ice-cream bar (or, in many cases, frozen yogurt bar); but there are plenty of healthy and delicious items of which to take advantage.
Cruise ships from 30 years ago had few options for those prone to a more "active" lifestyle. Sure, you could walk the top deck to get in your daily calorie-burn; but these ships were more focused on relaxation... namely in the form of sitting by the pools.
Nowadays, you can do everything from rock-climb to surf on the newer ships. Not to mention the beefed-up fitness facilities and classes they offer. From my own experience, there's nothing quite like running on a treadmill with a view of the vast (and beautiful) ocean from the front of the ship while at sea.
When you hear the word negative, you often think "bad." In the case of negative ions, that couldn't be farther from the truth.
In fact, negative ions are extremely beneficial for you and your health.
First, a short science lesson. Remember back in Junior High, when you learned about atoms and molecules, protons and electrons? When atoms and molecules have equal number of protons and electrons, they have a neutral charge. But when one outweighs the other, an ion is created: either a negative ion, or a positive ion.
Whereas positive ions are typically man-made, and are found in things like televisions, cell phones, laptops and air conditioners; negative ions are naturally found in things like oceans, waterfalls, mountainous areas and before (or after) a thunderstorm.
Honestly, when you're on a cruise ship, you can't get any closer to negative ion exposure than the wide-open ocean all around you!
I mentioned health benefits... there are many. Studies have shown that negative ion exposure may lead to health benefits such as increased circulation, a boost in brain function, reduced feelings of depression and effects from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and balanced sleep hormones. Not to mention the boost in balance, flexibility, muscle endurance, energy, and pain relief.
Negative ion exposure isn't the only exposure you'll get on a cruise. Cultural exposure is also something that can be a health booster.
That may sound silly, yes. After all, how can visiting different cultures have an impact on your health?
Well, for one, many countries you'll visit on a cruise – whether it's in South or Central America, Asia, Europe or the Middle East – promote natural remedies and therapies. Eastern and/or Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around far longer than our own Western mentality of medicine and what the typical American doctor thinks makes one healthy. Latin American cultures have relied for centuries on home remedies to cure their ailments, enlisting the help of curanderos, or healers, whose medicinal processes usually involved herbs, mysticism and spiritual rituals. Even if you're simply traveling within Europe, trends like the Mediterranean Diet can change your health going forward. Perhaps you'll pick up a few new health habits along the way.
Also, learning about new cultures and customs and meeting people of different nations is one way to challenge your brain as well as leave you with a sense of fulfillment. Remember the wise Aristotle? He purported that there is a difference between the pleasures of the moment, or hedonia, and the satisfaction that comes from constantly developing and living one's life to the fullest, or eudaimonia.
That may sound well and good, but science backs up the benefits of eudaimonia. Research suggests that the greater sense of purpose and personal growth correlates with lower cortisol levels, better immune function and more efficient sleep.
Just Getting Away
These days, work and other responsibilities often take precedence over, well, everything else. This obviously leads to stress, anxiety and even depression. Many folks believe that they can't afford to take a vacation – either financially, or simply because they are too needed at their job or home.
Here's the thing. It is WORTH IT. Getting away, even for a just a few days, can boost happiness, reduce stress, and improve overall health. Not only that, but employees returning to work after a vacation are actually more productive and creative.
One survey of travelers found that prior to vacation, only 41% thought that a vacation would make them "a better person," but 72% – nearly double – came home believing they actually were a better person.
Remember, you don't have to take a 14-day (or more) cruise to realize these results. Cruises of all prices, lengths and destinations await you. Perhaps the next time you visit your doctor, you should ask for a prescription for a ticket to paradise.