Time for a holiday? Relaxing vacations can reprogram your genes!

If you’ve been considering a resort-style holiday, here’s a reason to book it right now: not only do you feel less stressed, but it can reprogram your genes, raising your immune defences and reducing inflammation.

Scientists from the University of California discovered an immediate and ongoing “vacation effect” at people who holidayed at a resort-style location. At a psychological level, participants had an improved wellbeing score, including lower stress and depression symptoms and higher vitality.

But the true effect of a holiday was revealed in genetic tests. Participants gene expression had changed, turning down “defence responses”, lowering inflammation and improving immune function. Blood tests also revealed an improvement in ageing biomarkers, such as higher telomerase activity, which is used to repair chromosomes and decreases as we age.

The study points to reduced stress levels as the main reason behind the genetic changes.

“Vacation in a relaxing, resort-like environment takes you away from your day-to-day grind, which may be high stress in which your body is in a more defensive-like posture,” said study author Dr. Eric Schadt. “On a relaxing vacation you allow your body to get out of that defensive posture, reduce your levels of stress which in turn affects the states of cells that are involved in your immune system,” he said.

While short bursts of stress are normal, and can even improve your body’s functioning, being in a high-stress environment for prolonged periods of time can be damaging to your health. “You want these [defence response] pathways activated if they are fighting off a disease, but if they are continually activated we have seen that they are partially responsible for increasing susceptibility to a whole range of diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders,” said Dr. Schadt.

The study checked in with participants for months after their relaxing holiday, and found that both the psychological and genetic changes lasted long after the holiday — in up to 10 months for people who continued to practice relaxing techniques, such as meditation and yoga.

The takeaway from all this? It’s time to pack your bags and book that retreat!