“We’re one of the only advanced economies that does not guarantee paid leave,” says Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” and director of the Better Life Lab at the think tank New America. One in four Americans has no access to paid vacation, and those who do often don’t use it, she says. it. It’s time we realize that it is necessary to our health to take time off from deadlines, emails, our kids sports and grocery runs.
For years researchers have been studying the health benefits of taking a vacation. Can you really buy a ticket to better health? Hop a flight to a healthier heart? The travel industry would say yes, but even more important so does science!
According to the US Travel Association In 2018, the average American earned about 24 days of paid time off—but used only about 17 of them. More than half of Americans leave vacation days on the table, fearful of being seen as uncommitted to work, returning to a tsunami of emails, or other fallout.
Experts don’t know yet exactly how much time you need to take off to get the full benefits: Studies have variously shown that just four days can impact stress and well-being, that positive effects peak at eight days, and that longer vacations—more than 10 days—soothe stress better than shorter ones.
The following are 5 benefits of taking time off:
- Increased Mindfulness – Stepping out of your normal routine can snap you in to being in the moment and enjoying the present instead of running on autopilot. A plus of international travel: It can help people appreciate the common humanity and basic goodness which is present in all human beings.
- Increase Heart Health – According to the famous Framingham Heart Study and published in American Journal of Epidemiology back in 1992, found that women who took very few vacations—less than one every six years—were twice as likely to have a heart attack or coronary death than women who had a couple of breaks each year. Another study Gump co-authored in 2019 compared blood test results with the number of vacations subjects had taken in the prior 12 months. For each additional vacation, the incidence of metabolic syndrome—a group of conditions that puts people at higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke—went down by almost 25 percent. The big surprise: the results were even more potent for those who staycationed.
- Reduced Stress – Multiple studies have shown that vacations reduce stress, which is known to negatively impact blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other measures of health. Even knowing that a vacation is coming up can keep stress from, well, stressing you out.
- Brain Boosts – It’s well-known that relaxation can juice up your creativity. “Neuroscience is so clear, through PET scans and MRIs, that the ‘aha’ moment comes when you’re in a relaxed state of mind,” Schulte says. That’s why you have your best ideas in the shower or on a walk—or on vacation.
- Lift Moods – Vacation doesn’t just have the power to pep up a person, but an entire country. A handful of years ago, Swedish experts did a deep dive into anti-depressant consumption. They figured out that fewer meds were dispensed during vacation periods. The more people who were on vacation—in July, for instance, which is a big month off in Sweden—the bigger the impact. Finally, there’s arguably the biggest benefit of all—which hasn’t yet turned up in studies and may not be apparent for many years. “At the end of your life, you remember moments of connection,” Schulte says. “The times when it feels like you’re so present. Psychologists call it peak human experience—and it doesn’t happen in the office.”