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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
Every adventure requires the right protective equioment - make sure you have yours with coverage from Cigna. 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, let 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.

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

Why Swiss patients pay too much for healthcare

Switzerland is an expensive place to live - and that includes healthcare costs. But a new report has revealed how doctors and hospitals are overcharging their patients on a regular basis.

Why Swiss patients pay too much for healthcare

Some doctors and hospitals in Switzerland overcharge their patients by either invoicing services that have not been provided or billing more than is necessary.

This practice is a problem particularly as health insurance premiums are expected to increase significantly in 2023 to reflect rising health care costs.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Swiss health insurers have confirmed that patients in Switzerland are charged three billion more than they should be each year by doctors and hospitals. 

Without these additional charges, healthcare premiums in Switzerland could be ten percent cheaper, estimate the country’s healthcare insurers. 

However, in order to do so, the system would need significant changes to ensure greater transparency. 

Cost gouging hard to prove

Matthias Müller, spokesperson for health insurance umbrella organisation Santésuisse, confirmed that certain doctors charge too much.

“We see this problem particularly in the outpatient care, where doctors can choose from numerous tariff positions”.

However, proving excessive charges is difficult, according to Felix Schneuwly, a health industry expert at Comparis price comparison service.

That’s because “patients do not sign a ‘work report’ for the medical services rendered”, so health insurance companies cannot check whether a service was provided at all and whether it was indeed necessary, Schneuwly said, explaining that an insurance company can only verify whether the quantities and costs of the services on the invoices comply with the law.

Patients also have very little power to prove that they have been overcharged, which effectively gives doctors and hospitals the freedom to charge more. 

Yvonne Gilli, of the Professional Association of Swiss Doctors (FMH) said that while they could not confirm whether these allegations were accurate, she was aware of instances where doctors had charged too much, although she reaffirmed that this “did not happen often”. 

FMH said there were 58 cases of overcharging in Switzerland in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, but that “Every doctor convicted in this regard is one too many”.

Schneuwly said hospitals and doctors should be required to produce “treatment reports” which would allow insurers to compare costs and the treatment provided. 

“(That way) the insurance companies can understand exactly which service was provided and for what reason.”

Müller notes that the same procedure can cost up to three times as much in different parts of the country and at different practices. 

As patients do not pay these costs directly they are less likely to question them, although they eventually pay more through their healthcare premiums.

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