The most relaxing way to improve your health

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published July 12, 2019

Key Takeaways

Can you improve your health simply by going on a vacation? Yes, you can, according to authors of a recent study in Psychology & Health. The researchers showed that people who took frequent vacations had objective signs of better physical health, while those who took few or no vacations had signs of poorer health.

“What we found is that people who vacation more frequently in the past 12 months have a lowered risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms,” said first author Bryce Hruska, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Public Health, David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY.

“This is important because we are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does,” he added. “Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated.”

This isn’t the first study to directly link vacationing to physical health. In two large-scalecohort studies, researchers showed that the more vacations people take, the lower their risks for heart attack, cardiovascular mortality, and all-cause mortality. Conversely, the authors of another study with a 26-year follow-up showed that shorter vacations were associated with worse health status and greater mortality.

“Collectively, this literature has been taken as evidence that vacations may provide a recovery opportunity during which elevated physiological load (sympathetic nervous system activity from stress) returns to resting levels,” Dr. Hruska and co-authors wrote. “In turn, this reduction in physiological load may reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as metabolic syndrome, which has been consistently associated with chronic stress.”

Pack your bags

For this study, Dr. Hruska and colleagues created a new standardized interview instrument for “the systematic assessment of vacations and their characteristics across vacation research.” They used this interview instrument to assess 63 full-time workers eligible for paid vacation time during the previous 12 months. The researchers also measured the workers’ waist circumference, and took blood samples and blood pressure readings.

Overall, the researchers found that people who took more vacations had fewer symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

And the more vacation time that workers took, the better was their health, the researchers found. People who didn’t take any vacation had the most metabolic symptoms, while those who took the maximum number of vacation days had the least metabolic symptoms. Specifically, the odds of having metabolic syndrome decreased by 24% for each additional vacation taken.

Although some of us may consider vacations themselves to be stressful, the workers in this study reported that the stress from traveling, spending money, and providing childcare while vacationing was low.

“Importantly, one of the most commonly reported activities occurring during vacations were social activities such as spending time with family or sharing a meal with friends. This is significant given the influential role that social relationships have on physical and psychological health,” Dr. Hruska and co-authors noted.

Use it or lose it

The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time. In 2018, American workers left a combined total of 653.9 million vacation days unused, according to a “Vacation Deprivation” study by

Current research indicates that this lost vacation time may be harming the physical health of American workers, according to Dr. Hruska

“One of the important takeaways is that vacation time is available to nearly 80% of full-time employees, but fewer than half utilize all the time available to them,” he said. “Our research suggests that if people use more of this benefit, one that’s already available to them, it would translate into a tangible health benefit.”

So, go ahead and book that vacation right now. Your heart and your health will thank you.

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