There’s no question that vacation is fun—and that it often gives us an opportunity to explore a new city or indulge in an exotic cuisine. But research shows that taking time off from our daily routines and stresses offers more than an opportunity to soak up the sun in an exotic locale. Vacationing can actually have a positive impact our physical and mental health as well.
Unfortunately, not enough Americans are taking advantage of these health benefits. According to a study by Project: Time Off, in 2015, 55 percent of American workers failed to use all of their allotted vacation time, adding up to 658 million unused vacation days. It’s no wonder stress-related illnesses are becoming an epidemic. In fact, it’s estimated that 75-90% of all doctor’s visits are triggered by stress.
So, aside from exercising and adopting a healthy diet, taking time off is probably one of the easiest ways to improve your health. Here are five specific ways summer vacation can contribute to your overall wellness:
One study found that just planning a vacation can actually increase happiness. This could be a result of the anticipation of the unknown or the excitement of planning time off, and researchers observed this increased happiness as much as eight weeks before leaving for the trip.
And once you arrive at your resort of choice, engaging in physical activity, eating a healthy diet, exploring new places, practicing gratitude and engaging in other positive, mindful activities—like this easy, 5-step approach to guided meditation—can maintain and even extend your joy.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to form new and reorganize old synaptic connections, and it’s typically a result of learning, experiencing new things, or recovering from an injury. It makes sense, then, that jetting off on vacation to be exposed to new sounds, scents, and tastes can positively affect your brain’s neuroplasticity. And this is one benefit that lasts well beyond the vacation’s end—new sparks in the brain’s synapses have been linked to creativity, which can also help improve job performance and bring new ideas to the table.
According to the American Psychological Association, getting away from activities and environments that cause anxiety and chronic stress (goodbye cubicle; hello beach!) dramatically reduces both. The stress-relieving effects of vacation often occur after just two days, and one study found that people who took a one-week vacation still felt de-stressed up to five weeks later, while experiencing fewer stress-related physical complaints (e.g., headaches and backaches).
Need one more reason to head to the nearest island? Blue water and green spaces reduce sensory stimuli and are thought to have the most mental detoxification benefits.
Reduces risk of heart disease
Vacation-induced stress relief also seems to have long-lasting health benefits, as lower stress and anxiety levels have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Framingham Heart Study found that women who took vacations just every six years were almost eight times more likely to have a heart attack as compared to the women who took a vacation at least every two years.
Similarly, a study showed that amongst middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease, men who went on vacation regularly were 21 percent less likely to die of any cause other than old age, and were 32 percent less likely to die of heart disease.
Promotes a good night’s rest
According to a study that had vacationers wear a wrist device to measure sleep over an 18-day period—including 12 days on vacation, three days before, and three days following—after two to three days on vacation, participants averaged an hour more of quality sleep. Even better, when they got home, they were still sleeping about an hour more.
This higher quality of sleep may be a result of lower anxiety and stress levels, as well as reduced exposure to stimulants like late-night TV watching or checking emails on your phone—both of which can negatively affect sleep due to their harmful blue lights.
This study also analyzed reaction time and found that vacationers’ reaction times were 30 to 40 percent higher than before the trip. Again, this illustrates a possibility that vacation can help improve productivity in the workplace, offering incentive for employers to encourage employees to actually use their vacation days.
So, a summer vacation can improve your health, your job satisfaction, and performance, but in order to fully reap the benefits of your getaway, be sure to unplug and disconnect completely. Checking your emails right before bed or squeezing in a few minutes of work before you start your day can interfere with this healthy break.
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