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The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance

Ever looked at all the challenges laid in front of you and lamented, ‘I really need a holiday’?

The surprising ways time abroad can improve mind, body and bank balance
Discovering all the places you've dreamed of visiting? International health insurance is a must. Photo: Getty Images

Embarking on a new adventure, far away from everyday routine, has long been celebrated. 

It’s also long been considered to have positive health benefits. In his ‘The Conquest of Happiness’, the English philosopher Bertrand Russell remarked, ‘If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.’

And it’s not just short trips abroad that have been known to revive the soul; relocating or living abroad may be even more beneficial. 

Is there any truth to the idea that a change of scenery has beneficial effects? Could adventure and exploration, in fact, be ‘the best medicine’? 

In partnership with international health insurance provider Cigna Global, we look at the evidence. 

Peace of mind

The science is reasonably unequivocal as to the effects of travel on the brain: The ‘positive effects of travel experiences on perceived health and wellness have been demonstrated by multiple studies’, as stated in a 2013 literature review by researchers from Washington State University and Texas A&M.

Over the last decade, a number of studies have lent weight to this conclusion. 

Significantly, a paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin showed that travelling and experiencing different cultural environments, a key component of living abroad, led to more developed creative thinking skills. The mere act of recalling living experiences abroad, it found, led to a greater range of responses to a series of problems. 

Additionally, a 2018 paper published in Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes demonstrated through six studies that living abroad can improve decision-making skills. As the abstract to the paper states, ‘living abroad leads to a clearer sense of self because it prompts self-discerning reflections on whether parts of our identity truly define who we are or merely reflect our cultural upbringing’.

Even just anticipating an upcoming change of scenery can have positive mental effects. In 2020, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found 97% of respondents reported feeling happier as they planned a holiday, with the effects lasting over time – anticipation of pleasurable experiences, it seems, can be just as much of a mood-booster as the experiences themselves.

Planning your next summer holiday? Remove worry and make sure you’re covered with international health insurance from Cigna Global 

Of course, any overseas adventure will at some stage involve some language learning, and that too has been proven to improve cognitive skills. A 2012 paper in the journal NeuroImage demonstrated that learning a second language led to an increase in the brain’s ‘grey matter’ in the areas controlling language.

Bodily benefits  

Of course, more developed thinking skills will result in overall increased wellbeing – but does embarking on an overseas adventure have positive effects on physical health?

While the science here isn’t as developed as in the area of cognitive skills, studies do seem to show that this is the case. 

In 2013, the Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Centre for Retirement Studies, in partnership with the U.S. Travel Association published a study that found that, across genders, retirees who travelled at least once a year had a significantly decreased chance of suffering a heart attack, than those who remained at home – the mental stimulation involved playing some as yet undefined role in physical robustness.

Furthermore, a 2000 paper in Occupational Medicine found that travel often resulted in weeks of better sleep and fewer complaints of physical ailments. As bodies, such as the CDC, find that we’re increasingly not getting enough sleep, this is a particularly significant benefit. 

Time abroad can recharge and refresh you – especially if you’re fully covered in case of accident or emergency. Learn more about Cigna’s international health insurance plans 

Adventure-bound: It’s a great big world out there – make sure you’re fully covered when exploring it. Photo: Getty Images

Good for the hip pocket?  

As the science indicates, travel can, in fact, improve physical and mental health – but you might also be surprised to find that it can have benefits in terms of employment and earning opportunities. 

A 2018 survey by RAND Europe found that 80% of European scientific researchers who had opted to live and study abroad said that it improved their networks and work opportunities, and just under 40% said they had found a job as a result. 

Support for your next adventure

What are you waiting for? Venturing overseas has been shown to be good for body and mind. 

In fact, it could be exactly what you need in terms of improving cognitive skills, decreasing the risk of heart attacks and improving your sleep – and imagine the wonderful experiences you will have!

When making the leap, make sure that you have international health insurance with a reputable provider. 

With international health insurance, in case of an accident or emergency, you will have access to private hospitals as well as a global network of specialists for treatment. A good provider will also fly you home for treatment should you need it.

When evaluating international health insurance providers, consider Cigna. With a history extending two hundred years, Cigna has wide-ranging expertise about the variety of situations that travellers can find themselves in.

For the last sixty years, Cigna has been building a network of hospitals and specialists to treat customers in trouble, and now offers 24/7 phone access in English to policyholders. With Cigna, no matter where you are, or what time it is, you can access someone who can help and speaks your language. 

In addition, until the end of May, Cigna is offering a free health and well-being policy upgrade to help you on your way abroad. It includes annual routine physical examinations, preventative cancer screenings, dietician consultations and telephone wellness coaching, to make sure that many issues you may face can be avoided.

Heading abroad is medicine, in a manner of speaking. It can improve mind and body and lead to opportunities that you never dreamed of – that’s why it’s so important that you’re fully protected when you set off. 

Are you ready to try living abroad? Discover more about how Cigna helps you enjoy peace of mind as you make your move

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HEALTH INSURANCE

EXPLAINED: Why do Swiss healthcare premiums vary so much per canton?

Switzerland’s health insurance scheme is not only expensive, but its structure is far from simple, especially when it comes to premiums.

EXPLAINED: Why do Swiss healthcare premiums vary so much per canton?

If you come from a country with a public (that is, government-sponsored) healthcare, as much of the European Union is, Switzerland’s system may leave you perplexed.

It is fundamentally different in that it is not tax-based or financed by employers, but rather by individuals themselves.

Everyone must have a basic health insurance coverage — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian — and purchase it from one of dozens of private carriers.

READ MORE: How is Swiss healthcare system different from the rest of Europe?

So far it doesn’t sound too complex, but the plot thickens.

The quality or the span of the basic healthcare is not in question — it includes coverage for illness, hospitalisation, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

The problem is the cost, which has risen over the past 20 years at twice the rate of economic growth, resulting in health insurance premiums that are 90 percent higher today than in 2002.

This has become even clearer on Tuesday, when Health Minister Alain Berset announced that premiums will jump by 6.6 percent on average in 2023 — the sharpest hike in two decades.

While premiums will go up throughout Switzerland, residents of some cantons will have to pay more for healthcare than their counterparts in others.

The highest, above-national-average premiums will hit Neuchâtel (+9.5 percent), Appenzell Innerrhoden (9.3 percent), and Ticino (9.2 percent).

Residents of Zurich will see their premiums increase by 7 percent.

In Vaud and Valais, the rates will hover just below the national average, at 6.1 percent, and in Bern by 6.4 percent. Geneva and Basel, on the other hand, will see their premiums rise by a relatively ‘low’ 4.2 and 3.6 percent, respectively.

READ MORE: Which Swiss cantons will see the biggest increase in health insurance premiums?

Why doesn’t Switzerland have national health premiums — the same across all cantons?

The reason is the decentralised system of government, under which cantons wield a lot of power.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s cantons are so powerful

In terms of healthcare, responsibilities are divided between the federal and cantonal authorities.

The federal government regulates financing of the health system, ensures the quality of care, as well as safety of drugs and medical devices, and promotes research and training.

It also supervises dozens of private carriers to ensure that they comply with the federal KVG / LaMal law, which prohibits discrimination based on age or health status, withholding necessary treatments, and other provisions guaranteeing that every policyholder gets the same quality of care.

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is also responsible for approving premiums.

Cantons, on the other hand, are responsible for designing health care policies on their territories, licensing medical providers, coordinating hospital services, and setting healthcare premiums.

Why do the rates vary so significantly among cantons?

The reason is that cantons have different health infrastructure and levels of government funding.

Demographics and statistics also play a role: health premiums in cantons with younger and healthier population will be lower than in those with higher incidence of disease, and older, chronically ill people.

But the mere fact of living in a particular canton doesn’t necessarily mean premiums will be the same for everyone: cantons can also be divided into zones with different premiums.

The government “divides larger cantons, within which costs vary widely, into two or three premium regions”, according to FOPH. “It also determines the maximum permissible differences in premiums between regions”. 

For instance, communes in the cantons of Bern, Graubünden, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Zurich are assigned to three different premium regions. The cantons of Basel-Country, Fribourg, Schaffhausen, Ticino, Vaud and Valais each have two premium regions.

Does this mean you can only be treated in your own canton / region of residence?

It all depends on what kind of medical help you are seeking.

For instance, if, for whatever reason you want to consult a doctor or get an elective surgery in another canton, your health insurance will not totally cover the costs.

KVG / LaMal will only pay for treatment (both outpatient and in-hospital) in the canton where the patient lives.

However, this rule applies only to non-urgent situations; emergency cases are treated differently.

If you injure yourself skiing or require urgent surgery while visiting another canton and can’t be easily transferred to a hospital close to your home, then your insurance will cover all the the costs of medical treatment.

“In an emergency, you can go to any hospital in Switzerland”, FOPH said, adding that it must be an authorised public health facility, rather than a private clinic, which in principle is not covered by the basic insurance, but only by supplemental coverage.

READ MORE: Will my Swiss health insurance cover treatment in another canton?

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