Are vacations one of the best ways to stay healthy?

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I love planning for vacations! Over these past few weeks, I have been planning for an upcoming vacation on a Disney Cruise. (Don’t judge – my 13 year-old son loves meeting and “hanging” with new friends in the tween/teen clubs; and the “elegant atmosphere” – his words. I, too appreciate the stunningly gorgeous c.1930’s transatlantic ocean liner décor. I savor the ocean vistas and breezes; the balmy weather (particularly in February!); going to the gym; spending time in the incredibly relaxing Rainforest Room; and bicycling and partaking in the many water sports offered on Castaway Cay. Yes, I unapogetically relish our Disney cruises! In fact, I may just write a blog about one….) Let’s see how well we are progressing, with our vacation planning “to do” list:

  • request time off (at least 6 months in advance) – check!
  • purchase new luggage (sweet!) – check!
  • renew previously expired passports – check!
  • assess clothing requirements (horse-back riding on Grand Cayman? Time to dig out my riding boots. Yay!) — working on it!
  • arrange dog care? – check! (thanks to our beautiful cousin!)

Yes, I love planning for vacations — almost as much as I love good science. Okay, so maybe that’s a close tie… Of course, I wanted to combine these two loves, so I asked myself:

What is the science behind the benefits of taking vacation?

Fortunately, there is a fair amount of decent research, on the matter. Let’s start, by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Are we one of the 75% Americans that does not use all of our vacation time each year?
  • Or, are we one of the 42% of Americans that does not take any vacation time off each year?
  • How about one of the 61% of Americans that works, while on vacation?

By now, we may be wondering, “What’s the big deal, if we don’t take vacation?” 

Actually, quite a bit! First, let’s take note of the research, that has shown that employers benefit (when their employees take their paid vacation leave), in the following ways:

  • higher employee productivity
  • greater employee retention
  • stronger workplace morale

This knowledge may allay any concerns amongst “workaholics,” by reminding us, that taking paid leave is actually good for our places of employment.

Now that we’ve cleared that concern, we may find ourselves curious about the effects of taking our vacation time — is vacation really good, for us? 

The short answer: Yes, sir-ee, baby! (Don’t you say maybe!) Taking paid vacation leave has been shown to benefits employees by:

  1. Reducing stress

Several studies have shown that vacations help to lower stress — by getting us away from the people, places, things, and situations — that we find stressful.

Here’s something to consider: this stress reduction is not just temporary, but  lasts well after we return home from vacation.

Another benefit: after taking time off from work, vacationers have described fewer stress-related physical complaints, such as headaches, backaches, and heart irregularities for the five weeks after returning home.

Now, that’s awesome!

  1. Improving overall mental health

Some studies have found that leisure time activities, including vacations, are associated with increased positive emotions; energy levels; general life satisfaction; and improved sense of feeling healthy overall.

People who vacation at least once per year, have also been found with decreased negative feelings, such as tension, anxiety and depression.

Sounds good, so far, right?   RELATED: 7 easy steps to find the right psychologist for you

  1. Preventing heart disease

Many different studies have emphasized that taking a vacations improves cardiovascular health. In one study, men (who were at risk for heart disease) that skipped vacations for five consecutive years were 32 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least a week off each year.

Other studies have shown similar results with women. Women who did not take any vacation time during a six year period were nearly eight times more likely to develop heart disease, have a heart attack, or die of a coronary-related cause than women who took at least two vacations each year.

Taking vacations is good for our hearts!

  1. Enhancing relationships

One five-year study showed that women who take vacations at least twice yearly reported higher levels of marital satisfaction; and that not taking vacations decreased satisfaction with their marriages.

Other research has shown that families that vacationed together showed increased well-being and general satisfaction with their  relationships. The authors stated that the shared experiences; communication; escape; relaxation; and experiential learning contributed to their positive relationship growth.

 

  1. Improving sleep

Some studies have shown that vacations improved overall sleep by  interrupting habits that disrupt sleep, like working late into the night, or watching a backlit screen before bed.

Vacations also provide a much-needed respite from the stress of our day-to-day lives (as mentioned above).

Of course, vacations that provide the chance to be more physically active while outdoors, promote restful slumber!

A few more questions about vacations, to consider:

  • Do the types of vacation activities make a difference?
  • How about where we vacation?

Yes, of course! Several studies have shown that exercising, getting good sleep, making new acquaintances, and taking free time for one’s self was associated with feeling well-recuperated, especially when vacations were taken in warmer (and sunnier) locations.   RELATED: Four fitness apps that you want to download right now   On the flip side, vacationers felt more exhausted when experiencing vacation-related health problems and greater time-zone differences to locations that were not sunnier or warmer than home.   RELATED: What are the winter blues, and how to I know if I have it?

Another reason why investing in vacations is a good idea:

Some very interesting research has shown that planning for, experiencing, and then reminiscing about vacations extend the level of satisfaction and happiness that we feel over the course of those accumulated moments. Sounds like an excellent return on investment, to me!   Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I think that I will go pack…

vacation

Yes, vacations are good for our health!
– Denise Dixon, PhD @suffolkhealthpsy.com

References and Resources:

Would you like to read the reference articles for this blog post, or see additional vacation and travel resources? If yes, then click here for links to references for this blog post, and here to access additional links and resources.

 

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YOUR TURN:

What do you think about this post? Do you take a yearly vacation? Do you find yourself relaxed and refreshed upon your return? Where is your favorite destination? What are some of your favorite vacation activities? Really looking forward to reading and responding to your comments!

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Please do not discuss clinical concerns here! Remember, this blog is for informational purposes only. It does not represent a professional relationship between the reader and the author. If you have any clinical concerns, please schedule an appointment, or see your own health care provider. As always if you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or proceed directly to your closest emergency room.

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