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3 Amazing Ways a Ranch Vacation Changes Your Brain

What if your summer getaway made you happier, smarter, and less stressed?

Tips & Ideas, Travel Tips Monday, June 3, 2024

Once the spring snowmelt has rushed through the mountains, some of our favorite Nordic resorts and destinations swap Pistenbullys and snowmobiles for tractors and quarter horses, pivoting into their summer identities as guest and dude ranches.

When destinations like Devil’s Thumb, Snow Mt. Ranch, Latigo, and Vista Verde close down the last of the ski trails, they lean into offering summer ranch getaways that are more off-the-grid, unplugged, back-to-the-land and immersive than your usual frantic summer vacay— and that have a healthy, healing effect not just for body and soul, but your mind as well.

If you’re willing to ditch the devices, trade your car for boots and a saddle, and spend a week connecting with your family instead of chauffeuring the swim team carpool, then a ranch vacation might be the mental break you’ve been craving. Here’s how channeling your inner cowgirl/cowboy can change your brain for the better.

1. Time with animals makes you more empathetic and lowers your stress

Hanging with the goats, cuddling barn kittens, and bonding with your horse partner for the week is not only rewarding and sweet but transformative. 

Humans who work with animals must navigate an interspecies communication gap, which forces us to be more patient and observant in deducing and interpreting what our animals are expressing. Studies of pet owners have shown that they are better at assessing social cues and emotional signals in other humans.

Spending time with animals also boosts beta-endorphins and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals that lower body stress and increase pain management/tolerance. And all that brushing, cuddling, and petting releases oxytocin, the neurotransmitter that spurs bonding, love, and affection.

2. Dark skies reset your sleep pattern for the better

Most humans understand the value of solid sleep and preserving circadian rhythms. Still, we have become creatures of the light—not just artificial light, but blue light, the kind emitted by screens that tell our brain it is still daytime and keeps us from falling into deep, restful sleep.

Look around a ranch at night, and you won’t see a lot of flickering TVs, late-night laptop sessions, or garden-variety light pollution from nearby homes and towns. It’s just you, a couple thousand acres, and the Milky Way—a profound and beautiful way to experience nighttime. Plus, ranch life leaves folks worn out and ready for bed when night falls, then up at daylight when the work day begins. It’s the perfect cycle for a circadian rhythm reset, leading to feeling more rested and the ability to fall asleep naturally.

And the reward? A rested brain is more alert and has a higher ability to concentrate. Studies show that rest improves intellectual performance and creativity.

3. Commit to a digital detox and unplug for a week

By default, Ranch life is low-tech, and guests are encouraged to embrace it. Replace screen time with outdoor adventures like riding, hiking, fishing, and paddling. You’ll live in the moment and be less reliant on tech while making real memories and connections, and your brain and body will thank you. 

The benefits of taking a break are plentiful and have an important impact on the brain. For one, a digital vacation helps improve focus by removing the temptation of constant distraction from a pinging phone. This gives the brain a chance to slow down and recharge. Another benefit? Reduced stress. By shifting attention from screens back to the real world, you can focus on sensory input—sights, sounds, smells—and engage in more face-to-face human interaction, which is what our brains are wired for to feel safe and connected.

When it comes to clarity and quality of life, ranch life is tough to beat. You can reap some of the same benefits by planning a summer vacation at any Nordic destination that emphasizes togetherness, healthy activity, and plenty of time in nature. Your brain will thank you for it.

Photo credit: Latigo Ranch

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