Most people’s lives are filled with high stress—the pressure of meeting deadlines, battling with colleagues and angry customers, or simply the monotonous, but demanding, day-to-day grind. Their minds and bodies are coiled up, defensive and taut.
A relaxing vacation in a resort-like atmosphere can allow your body to lower its guards, get out of the defensive posture, and unwind. The reduction in stress levels can positively affect the immune system cells at a molecular level.
Relaxation versus Meditation
A study was conducted to compare the benefits of just relaxing in a pleasant locality with attending a meditation retreat in the same place. Improvements were seen in many cellular markers in the blood including better stress regulation and immune function. 
The researchers continued to measure the gene activity and blood markers, and they discovered that there was a large and immediate “vacation effect” in all the candidates. The benefits were seen even ten months later in the participants who continued meditating.
Senior author Dr. Eric Schadt, founding director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai in New York, revealed that on a relaxing vacation, stress levels are reduced, and this in turn affects the states of cells that are involved in your immune system. Schadt told Reuters Health that at the molecular level, additional changes only happened, or happened more, in the meditation group, including more effective manufacture and use of proteins. He said “We don’t know what this means exactly, but given associations with biomarkers of aging, there is the potential that these changes could enhance overall wellbeing and longevity.” 
How the Study was Done
102 women between the ages of 30 to 60 participated in this study in which their blood was tested before and after five days at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California.
A third of these candidates were regular meditators who had already booked the retreat. Half of the remaining 70 non-meditators were randomly assigned to meditation or yoga programs, while the remaining ones were assigned to just vacation and relax. Reports were collected from these women concerning their depression symptoms, stress, vitality and mindfulness on day five, one month later and 10 months later.
The Study Results
At the end of the retreat, gene-expression changes and aging biomarkers in blood samples had improved significantly for all groups. This indicates the benefits of simply being on vacation. For all three groups, the psychological well-being scores improved by day five and one month later. The candidates who had meditated during their vacation had bigger reductions in their depressive symptoms and stress at the 10-month point compared to the ones who had only been on vacation.
Telomerase is an enzyme that repairs and fortifies the tips of chromosomes. Telomeres grows shorter and shorter as age progresses. The regular meditators in the study group showed a higher activity of the enzyme telomerase. The results of the study indicate that vacation and meditation seemed to turn down defense response, inflammation response, and innate immune response. Schadt said, “Of course you want these 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 such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.”
Limitations of the Study
The researchers acknowledged that there are several limitations to this study, which was funded by The Chopra Foundation and Benioff Foundation.
“It’s not clear if a weeklong vacation or meditation sessions would lead to changes in corresponding diseases. I don’t know that our results are such that they would speak to changes people should make in their lives to achieve a more healthy state, but rather it is another strong piece of evidence that relaxing and meditating may produce favorable healthy benefits,” Schadt said.
Irrespective of these study results, there is no doubt that high levels of continuous stress is harmful to our bodies, especially our immune system, and that reducing stress is definitely beneficial to our health. There are many things you can incorporate into your daily life to boost your immune system. Find ways to de-stress, massages with aromatic oils are a great way to relax, and essential oils like tea tree oil help stimulate the immune system and ward off colds and flus. Whenever you can find the time, enjoy a relaxing vacation in a great resort at a beautiful locality. It will surely lift your spirits, if not your immune system.
|||^||Nature.com: Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes|
|||^||Reuters.com: Just going on vacation may change gene activity|
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