Vacations: Good for Your Health. Seriously.
The great social theorist William Joel put it best: “Working too hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-[etc.]”
If you’re an American, you’re probably not heeding that warning. When it comes to worshiping freedom, we talk a big game, but are pretty willing to chain ourselves to our desks; a recent study commissioned by the US Travel Association found that the average American worker forfeits about five vacation days a year.
That obsessive work ethic might just be killing us, though. If you're looking for an excuse to get out of town for a few days, look no further than the science-backed benefits of vacations we've collected here.
Vacations keep your heart healthy
Who knew that Billy Joel lyrics were based on science? Researchers studying the health of men with a risk of heart disease found that those who frequently took vacations had a lower risk of death than those who didn't.
John de Graaf, author of Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America and president of the Take Back Your Time nonprofit organization, says that not taking a regular vacation increases the risk of heart attack by 32% in men and 50% in women.
Just tell your supervisors they'll be saving a life the next time you ask them to approve a time off request.
They reduce the time you spend worrying
If your job doesn't stress you out, fantastic. Everyone hates you. About 80% of Americans are worried about work, and the fact that we're also lousy about giving ourselves a break might not be a coincidence.
And that stress has myriad negative health effects, so much so that de Graaf claims some researchers refer to work stress as "the new tobacco."
The solution? Science tells you to take a vacation! Sometimes the best way to stop freaking out about work is to stop going to work.
They make you hate your partner less
Or love him/her more! A study of mental health issues among rural Wisconsin women found that those who took more vacations reported greater satisfaction in their marriages. If those scientists were a little snarkier, they might have concluded that getting away from Wisconsin would make anyone happier.
They help your brain make new connections
Science has confirmed what Ferris Bueller already knew: in order to make the most out of life, you need to step back from it once in a while.
When our minds wander, our brains are actually running processes that normally don't get much play in our busy lives. In this state, we're able to reflect on the past, plan for the future, and put our experiences into perspective, paving the way for overall mental health.
But it's important to keep your vacation from becoming an extension of your hyperconnected daily life. In other words, DON'T TAKE A BOATLOAD OF SELFIES! De Graaf cautions, "Don't make photos the object of the trip. You have to experience the places you visit in a real, not simply virtual way."
They guard against depression
Research again and again and again shows that taking vacations reduces the risk of depression in everyone from stressed-out lawyers to Midwestern housewives. According to de Graaf, studies indicate that women who don't take regular vacations have significantly greater odds of developing depression than those who do. Booking that trip isn't being indulgent; it's looking out for your own mental well-being.
They help you lose that beer gut
While a quality vacation should involve gorging yourself on all the best food your destination has to offer, that doesn't necessarily mean packing on extra pounds in the long run. As we've already mentioned, vacations reduce stress, and higher levels of stress mean higher levels of the hormone cortisol. Stay with us here -- too much cortisol is linked with having extra belly fat.
Call it the Spending a Week in Hawaii diet.
They improve your sex life
Especially if you're a guy. A study of cortisol levels in professional cyclists revealed that higher cortisol levels meant lower testosterone. And the lower your testosterone levels, the lower your sex drive. And... we don't need to explain why that's a bad thing, right? Take that relaxing trip. YOU will thank you.
They make you look more attractive
Especially if you're a woman. Researchers tested women for various biological factors, then showed pictures of their faces to men and asked them to rate their attractiveness. The women who had higher levels of cortisol -- again, meaning they were more stressed out -- were seen as less attractive than than those who had lower levels. Taking a vacation will chill you out AND make you hotter.
They make you happier, even when you're not on vacation
You don't need a scientist to tell you that lounging on the beach, sipping a margarita, and having approximately zero spreadsheets to agonize over will make you a much happier person. But what about when you're stuck in your cubicle, chugging an energy drink and occasionally taking a couple precious seconds out of your day to stare longingly at the stock photo of the ocean that you set as your desktop background?
It turns out that you can still reap the rewards of a vacation. A survey of Dutch vacationers found that personal levels of happiness rise when you're merely planning your trip. On top of that, if you managed to make sure that the vacation itself was as relaxing as possible, your mood stays elevated even when you're back at work.
They make you a better all-around worker
According to The New York Times, when accounting firm Ernst & Young looked at the vacation habits of their workers, they found that, in general, the more vacation someone took, the better their year-end performance review. Other studies show that workers who used their paid time off were more effective and dedicated overall, and less prone to burnout.
De Graaf sums up nicely the benefit employers receive from giving workers plenty of vacation, saying, "Workers who take vacations are less likely to have health problems, which decreases absenteeism. They're nearly twice as likely to feel happy about their workplace and work, and studies show clear connections between happiness and productivity."
Basically, your boss needs you to go away. It's the best thing for both of you.
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