With more grey nomads hitting the open road than ever before, scientists are beginning to ask why the idea of ‘living the dream’ has such incredible appeal to so many retiring Australians.
While the sheer growth in the numbers of older long-term caravanners and motorhomers may be explained by the relative financial wealth of the baby boomer generation, their sheer ability to travel doesn’t explain why they want to linger so long in remote regions.
Some scientists say that, from an evolutionary perspective, we associate natural things as key resources for survival, so we favour them.
Another explanation is that spending time in green spaces beneath endless blue skies is simply good for people’s health and sense of wellbeing … particularly if they have lived most of their lives in metropolitan areas.
Being in, or viewing, green space reduces physiological measures of stress, including blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. As scientists probe the link between environment and our sense of wellbeing, it seems that being near bodies of water brings particular benefit.
In 2016, US researchers conducted a study in New Zealand that found that people who had access to ocean views had lower levels of psychological distress. It revealed that, for every 10% increase in how much blue space people could see, the researchers found a one-third point reduction in the population’s average Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, which is used to predict anxiety and mood disorders.
And it’s not just the surroundings that bring benefits, it is the simple act of being outside. Research in 2013 from the University of Colorado Boulder found that camping decreases dependence on artificial light and helps people re-set their biological clocks … and therefore get better sleep. Spending more time in the sun also means your body gets extra vitamin D, improving things such as bone health.
And grey nomads who get active taking bushwalks and exploring their new surroundings enjoy a range of physical and mental benefits. Exercising outside helps get extra oxygen into travellers’ bodies. And travel itself, with its endless stimulations and challenges, is already an excellent way of exercising the grey matter.
Like many grey nomads, Bob McKerrow needs no persuading about the potential benefits of taking the Big Lap.
“At the end of your life, when you are in the wheelchair, in the nursing home not able to do anything, it is not what you have done that you will regret, it will be what you haven’t done,” he said. “And one of those things will be to not get out there and see this wonderful country and the meet the people.”
• Do you feel happier and healthier since hitting the road? Email us here to share your thoughts.