The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

How to Rest on Vacation

Take a real vacation and come back rejuvenated.

When was the last time you took a vacation and came back fully rested, renewed, and refreshed? Half of Americans come back from vacation bushed or exhausted. Yet rest should produce renewal. We see our hair and and nails grow, but we don't see our brain grow. Yet that's what happens during rest, which is when our bodies literally rebuild and remake themselves (and the process is fast. Some researchers report you essentially get a new heart in three days.) Rest can make us feel younger, look younger, and become healthier in an amazing variety of ways. Still, as Melanie Beck wrote in the June 15th Wall Street, "Relaxing Can Be Hard Work." The last thing you want is to turn vacation into a job. So for your next vacation consider these ideas:

1. Get enough sleep. Most Americans are sleep deprived, and often use vacations and weekends to pare back their sleep debt. What are you left with at the end of a vacation? For most of us, it's memories. Memories are powerfully summarized and remade during sleep, which is also the period where we grow more brain cells (more on this later.) So try to give enough time to sleep - that way you'll really remember some of the best times you have.

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2. Spend time enjoying food. Food is more than fuel and materials, it's also love, pleasure, celebration, plus critical information to our body. When we travel we experience different foods with entertainingly different results. Try dining rather than feeding, enjoying food socially as well as physically, emphasizing both new tastes and the people with whom you dine. Meals often become wonderful memories.

3. Alternate physical and mental activities. Brain cell growth occurs through combining physical activity and proper rest. If you move around, strolling, hiking, walking, biking, you create conditions for the brain cell growth which occurs during sleep. One of the easiest ways to do this is described in my book "The Power of Rest" (Harper One, 2010,) by going FAR - following a daily pattern of Food, Activity, Rest, as do many of the longest lived people on earth.

4. Get outside. Studies prove that moving in nature, especially when surrounded by greenery and water, markedly and quickly improves mood. Even if you are in the most urban of environments, get to a park or waterside if you can. Nature is high, wide, vast, and deep, and moments spent in nature can make us feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually.

5. Emphasize experiences. You don't want to treat a vacation like it's a job, where you manage to run through 17 palaces, 24 museums and 11 amusement parks in 8 days. Take time to look and see the unexpected. Let serendipity take its eventful course. A great advantage of travel is to experience the new.

6. Take time for people. When in Paris you may want to see the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, but what about the people you meet, only some of whom will be the wondrously singular French? Language barriers exist, but people find astonishing ways to get around them and enjoy refreshing perspectives.

I often talk to people at the end of their lives. Their most powerful and enjoyable memories frequently involve relationships and vacations.

7. Make your days rhythmic and musical. Ever wonder why people enjoy music so much? It's because we are inherently musical. Try to make your vacation days (actually all your days) rhythmic. FAR is one easy way to do this, as is to alternate physical with mental activities. Yet there are many different rhythms in the human body, varying from milliseconds to ninety minutes to the 24 hour day and the year. Every human enjoyment, whether it's conversation, hiking, dining or dancing, has its own rhythm.

8. Use active rest techniques. Rest is not a passive, slow process but quick and active. Using active rest techniques, like following a memorable meal with a pleasant ramble in a park, can aid far more than your waistline. It also allows you to do something truly powerful, giving the right kind of directions to your body's rest and renewal.

9. Figure out your desired level of adventure and go for it.
Some people like bungee jumping or parachuting from airplanes, while others prefer to watch. Vacations are new experiences. Try to think up experiences you consider imaginative and self-expanding, and try at least one each vacation. Learning new things can be a wonderulf kick, and you can learn a great deal on vacations.

But please, don't forget that rest is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. Rest renews, rebuilds, and rewires our brains and bodies, which can make us look better, feel younger, get healthier, plus obtain the peak experiences and memories of a lifetime.

Don't you want to try that kind of rest on your next vacation?

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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