Lonely Planet Writer

Why visiting places we love also has benefits for our health

Every avid traveller knows certain places captured their heart more than others. Now, new research has found that visiting the places we love actually plays a role in our emotional and physical wellbeing.

The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. Image by © Marco Bottigelli

The UK’s National Trust released a report on what is has called “pioneering brain research” that may help explain how meaningful places can enhance our wellbeing. The trust worked with academics at the University of Surrey and research experts at Walnut Unlimited, a conservation charity, to commission an in-depth fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to measure how a brain reacts to places it deems significant.

Vintgar gorge and wooden path, Bled, Slovenia Image by ©Janoka82/Getty Images

In the course of the research, they found that of the kinds of places people talked about –like woodland areas, buildings or historic sites – 42% were urban spots like sports venues or a hometown, and 21% are semi-urban and natural places, like mountains or beaches. Since it was residents of the UK who were studied, about 8% of people mentioned somewhere general in the UK, like Yorkshire, while 28% said somewhere outside the UK, such as Greece.

The Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset, England.
The Roman Baths in Bath, England. Image by ©joe daniel price/Getty Images/Flickr RF

It turns out that such places can trigger a significant response in parts of the brain associated with positive feelings like joyfulness, calmness, happiness or excitement. In fact, the research found that the brain’s emotional response to special places is higher than it is to meaningful objects like a wedding ring or a photograph. So remember that when you’re planning a wedding, where you hold it may be the most important thing.

How we feel about places also translates into how we behave towards them, an idea that is likely of particular interest to the National Trust, which is in charge of preserving the UK’s heritage. The research found that 68% of respondents already try to protect the spots that mean something to them, with actions ranging from picking up litter to organising for their protection.

Hiking at Crater Lake in Oregon. Image by ©Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock

Nino Strachey, head of research and specialist advice for the National Trust, said in a statement: “this research confirms places we love not only shape who we are, but offer deep physical and psychological benefits making it even more vital that we look after them for future generations.” If you want to learn more about the research, read the full report here.