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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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STRIKES

What to expect from the February 7th strike in France

February 7th marks the third day of mass strike action in the ongoing battle between the French government and unions over pension reform. From planes and trains to school, ski lifts and power cuts - here's what to expect on Tuesday.

What to expect from the February 7th strike in France

The next ‘mass mobilisation’ in the ongoing battle against pension reform is scheduled for Tuesday, February 7th, and will be followed by another one on Saturday, February 11th.

5 minutes to understand French pension reform

Tuesday’s mobilisation is supported by all eight French trades union federations, which means that support is likely to be high and disruption severe on certain services.

It will come as French lawmakers debate the bill in the Assemblé Nationale.

Workers in essential services such as transport must declare their intention to strike 48 hours in advance, allowing transport operators to produce strike timetables, which are usually released 24 hours in advance.

We will update this story as new information is released.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?

Trains

The four main unions (CGT Cheminots, Sud Rail, CFDT Cheminots, and UNSA Ferroviaire) representing workers with France’s national rail service, SNCF, have all called for strike action on Tuesday, February 7th.

During the day of action on January 31st, 36.5 percent of railway workers went on strike, compared to 46 percent on January 19th.

In addition to Tuesday’s strike action, two of the above unions, CGT and Sud Rail, have also called on workers to strike on February 8th. However, as of February 2nd, the other two primary unions had not made any calls to take part in Wednesday’s action.

Intercity and TER trains operated by the SNCF will likely see services disrupted on Tuesday with many cancellations. International trains including the Eurostar could also be affected.

City public transport

In the Paris region, the main unions representing RATP (Paris region public transport services) issued a joint statement on February 1st saying they would join calls for mobilisation on February 7th.

Traffic was severely disrupted on the most recent day of strike action, January 31st, on certain RER lines, with some lines like the RER C running an average of 1 train out of 10. As for the Paris Metro system, several lines only ran during peak hours and many stations across the city were closed. Many buses continued running, though with delays to usual operating times.

Other cities including Marseille and Lyon will likely see a repeat of severely disrupted bus, tram and Metro services.

In Lyon, on January 31st, public transport services were strongly impacted by strike action, and one metro line did not run at all throughout the day. 

Air travel

While it is not yet clear what level of disruption to expect in air travel, the leading civil aviation union, USACcgt, has called on “all DGAC (French civil aviation authority) and ENAC (National school of civil aviation) staff to go on strike en masse and take part in demonstrations” on February 7th, according to reporting by Le Parisien.

During the two previous mobilisations, approximately 20 percent of flights operating out of Paris-Orly airport were cancelled, but other airports were not affected. 

Ports

Port and dock workers walked on January 31st. It is not yet clear if they will join actions on February 7th, but typically strikes in this sector impact commercial ports rather than ferry ports. 

Schools

Tuesday’s strike will take place during the first round of winter holidays – so students in the Zone A (Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers) will already be off school.

You can find out more information about France’s school zones here.

Nevertheless – one of the major unions representing teachers, Snuipp-FSU said in a statement that they hope to see an “amplification” of previous walkouts, as they called on teachers to walk out on February 7th.

Primary school teachers (maternelle and elementary schools) are required to inform students and families at least 48 hours in advance of their intent to strike.

On January 31st, the Ministry of Education reported that about 25.9 percent of teachers walked out, in comparison to the 38.5 percent who walked out on the 19th. Numbers offered by the Snuipp-FSU union were higher – they said that about 50 percent of elementary school teachers walked out, and that 55 percent of secondary school teachers did so as well.

In addition to industrial action by teachers, several student unions, like the “National Student Movement” (MNL), representing high school students have made an effort to mobilise French youth across the nation, with some blocking the entrance to their high schools on strike days. According to the Journal des Femmes, the MNL has called on high schoolers across the country to walk out again on the 7th.

Ski lifts

BFMTV reported on January 31st that a walkout was scheduled for seasonal workers for approximately one hour and thirty minutes on Tuesday, February 7th. This means that in some resorts, ski lifts and stores could be closed. 

READ MORE: What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

The two unions that represent more than 90 percent of workers in ski resorts have also called an ‘unlimited’ strike which began on January 31st. This means further actions could come later in the month as well.

Petrol stations

French refinery workers have threatened to strike for a 72-hour period beginning on February 6th. Union representative, Eric Sellini, told AFP that these actions could result in a “lower throughput” for petrol and a “stoppage of shipments.”

This could mean that there may be shortages of petrol and diesel at some filling stations if the blockades are successful in stopping supplies leaving the refineries.

The mobilisation on January 31st saw a significant number of refinery workers walk out – between 75 to 100 percent at some refinery and oil depots, according to the union CGT.

Power cuts 

Workers in the energy sector (electricity and gas), primarily represented by the union FNME-CGT, have announced plans to strike from February 6th through 8th. 

The day of action on January 31st had 40.3 percent of employees at EDF (France’s national energy provider) walk out, in comparison to 44.5 percent on January 19th.

Some workers in this sector have taken what they call “Robin Hood” actions to “distribute free electricity” to hospitals, schools and low-income housing areas.

On January 31st, striking workers brought about significant load reductions in some power plants across the country – approximately 3,000 MW according to La Depeche. However, these reductions in power reportedly did not lead to any power cuts on the 31st.

Demos

Demonstrations are expected in cities and towns across the country.

January 31st, the most recent day of large scale mobilisation, saw over 1.27 million people take to the streets according to the interior ministry. In Paris, the number of protesters was estimated at 87,000, higher than the 80,000 clocked last time, the ministry told AFP.

In Lyon, the route for the demonstration has already been decided, according to Lyon Capitale. It will begin at 12pm in front of the Manufacture des Tabacs. The procession will move toward the Place Bellecour.

Unions are hoping for a similar turnout on February 7th.

Other strike dates

The above information relates to February 7th only. Unions have also called for more walkouts on February 11th. 

Additionally, the strike by oil refinery workers is expected to run for 72 hours, meaning it will continue into Wednesday, February 8th. There could be more action in later days by oil refinery workers, as they have called for an ‘unlimited strike’.

Other unions have also declared ‘unlimited’ strikes, so there could be disruptions on these services on other days – these include ski lift operators and truck drivers.

It is highly likely that further one-day or multi-day strikes will be announced for February and March, as the pension reform bill comes before parliament, you can keep up to date with out strike calendar HERE.

We will update this article as more information becomes available, and you can also keep up with the latest in our strike section HERE.

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