11 Reasons Taking a Vacation Can Make You Healthier
Last Updated: May 17, 2016
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Have some vacation days stored up at work? Take them! Vacations aren’t just a time to escape reality. Studies are showing that they’re important for a healthy mind, body and spirit. But it doesn’t have to be a lavish Mediterranean getaway. A vacation can be as simple as a “staycation” in your hometown or nearby city or a long weekend at your local lake. The essence of a vacation is to take a break from your habits, the monotony and your everyday routine. It’s time to book that vacation. Doctor’s orders!
VACATIONS RELIEVE STRESS
Just breathe! The chronic stress of your day-to-day routine can lead to fatigue, sleep problems and high blood pressure. But taking time away from daily pressures can relieve stress and get rid of the unhealthy hormones that accompany chronic stress. According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health, time off is crucial for people to recover from the negative effects of stress that build up at work. Booking a nice, relaxing vacation helps ensure that those first signs of stress (like elevated heart rate and fatigue) don’t develop into more serious reactions.
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VACATIONS RENEW YOUR FOCUS
No, the world won't fall apart if you take a break from your responsibilities. In fact, putting your to-do list on hold for a bit is essential in renewing your focus for yourself and for your job. "You unplug, unwind and leave the daily worries behind, [which] is an important practice for your mental health," says John Liantonio, M.D., of Thomas Jefferson University. “I think of vacation as a time to take a step back and think about what’s most important.” So use your time off to reflect on your current path and if it’s truly the direction you want to be going.
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YOU’LL STRENGTHEN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Daily life is stressful (no kidding!). Between accomplishing all the things on your to-do list, it’s hard to find time to focus on the most important things in life: your relationships. By switching off your phone, taking a break from emails and getting away from your everyday obligations, you’re able to focus some of your precious time on your relationships. Lauree Berger Turman, a marriage and family therapist located in Beverly Hills, California, says, she's seen her clients come back from vacations reconnected to their loved ones. "We need time off to give our bodies and minds time to go through the process of restoration," she says.
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VACATIONS CAN ADD YEARS TO YOUR LIFE
You read that right! Studies have found that people who take vacations live longer than people who don’t vacation. According to a 2000 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, men who are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease who took multiple annual vacations reduced their risk of death from all causes. Dr. John Liantonio says, “More studies need to be done to look at what specific benefits travelers are getting than non-travelers, but the mortality benefit is pretty impressive and enough for me to book another trip.”
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YOU’LL IMPROVE YOUR SEX LIFE
Stop drafting that pesky email, turn off your smartphone and spend some quality time with your partner between the sheets instead. A break from the stressors of life coupled with improved levels of happiness on vacation (and lowered depression and anxiety) can boost a couple’s sex life. And as a 2010 review published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine concluded, sex provides a host of mental and physical benefits. But do you really need an excuse to get frisky?
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VACATIONS PREVENT BURNOUT
If you’re checking email before and after work and feeling completely spent -- stop! You may be on your way to experiencing burnout. It’s important to give your brain time and space to solve problems. “People tend to get burned out because they put too much pressure on their work identity and forget about the identity of self,” says neuropsychologist Kate Cummins. “A holiday or break from work provides time for you to cultivate the person that you are and put emphasis on your self-identity. Look at vacation as an investment in yourself.”
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VACATIONS IMPROVE HEART HEALTH
Even if all you do is zone out on the beach for a few days, you can still reap heart-healthy benefits. The well-known Framingham heart study has been looking at cardiovascular health for decades. A follow-up study conducted at SUNY Oswego revealed that men who took a yearly vacation were 32 percent less likely to have a fatal heart attack. Another 2013 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who vacationed once every six years or less were more likely to have a heart attack or develop coronary artery disease compared to those who took at least two vacations a year. So get packing!
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VACATIONS HELP PREVENT DEPRESSION
Sure, you're happier on vacation, but your time off can have mental health benefits even after you come back to reality. A 2005 study at the University of Pittsburgh Mind Body-Center of 14,000 women (some of whom vacationed, while others did not) concluded that the risk of depression was dramatically reduced as they took more vacation. Study author Karen Matthews spoke to NPR about the study and said: “People felt healthier during vacation. They had a better mood. They were less tense. And they had a higher level of energy, and they were more satisfied with their life.” Now that's a reason to smile.
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YOU MIGHT EVEN LOSE WEIGHT
Your Italian vacation -- complete with pasta every day -- might just be the best way to shed some pounds without even trying. When you’re stressed, you release a chemical called cortisol. While it has many benefits, unfortunately, cortisol can impact fat storage and lead to weight gain in stressed individuals, especially around your midsection. And researchers at the University of New Mexico have concluded that “individuals with a high waist-to-hip ratio (which identifies visceral obesity) are at a greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes mellitus and cerebrovascular disease.”
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VACATIONS INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY
Here's something to share with your boss: It may seem counterintuitive, but taking time off can make you better at your job. According to an Ernst & Young internal study, for every 10 hours of vacation time that an employee took, their year-end performance rating improved eight percent. And those who vacationed frequently were also significantly less likely to leave the firm. It seems that checking out of work provides you with a renewed appreciation for your job and revitalized creativity once you return.
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VACATIONS PROVIDE FOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN
Not only does travel renew your zest for life, it also helps increase your brainpower! “It's important for people to experience new places,” says neuropsychologist Kate Cummins. When you travel to a place you've never been before, the way you take in information changes, she says. "You create an emotional connection to the culture or to a time in your life that you traveled. And emotional connection to memory has been shown to improve memory in the aging process.”
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you noticed that taking a vacation makes you feel healthier? When was the last time you took a vacation? What do you do during time off from work? How have you seen it benefit your health? How did you feel different after your time off? Do you have another vacation planned? What’s your ideal destination? Share your thoughts, suggestions and stories in the comments section below!
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