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Health Benefits of Vacations

Road Trip!
Health Net Points Out the Health Benefits of Vacations


With summer now in full swing, Health Net, is working to increase awareness that taking a vacation not only can be fun, but it also can help bring a variety of health benefits.

While it might be assumed that Americans happily take time off, the reality – according to Glassdoor's Q1 2014 Employment Confidence Survey – is that the average U.S. employee only takes half of his or her eligible vacation time.

The survey also says:

  • Among those who actually do go on vacation, three in five admitted to doing some work; and
  • A quarter of vacationing employees were contacted by a coworker, and 20 percent were contacted by their supervisor about a work-related issue.

"That's a shame," said Steve Blake, vice president of Clinical Operations at Managed Health Network, Inc., a subsidiary of Health Net, "because a number of studies have shown that taking time away from the job can have physical and psychological health benefits."

"Workers who don't take advantage of the vacation time that they're eligible for could be shortchanging themselves in terms of benefits to their health," added Blake.

Downtime May Decrease Heart Disease
A host of studies have highlighted the potential cardiovascular-health benefits of taking a vacation, including:

  • The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease sponsored by the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The trial followed 12,000 men over a nine-year period that had a high risk for coronary heart disease. The study found that any such men who take frequent annual vacations were 21 percent less likely to die from any cause and were 32 percent more likely to die from heart disease.
  • The landmark Framingham Heart Study – the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease – revealed that men who didn't take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks compared to men who did not take time off. And women who took a vacation only once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year.

Other Upsides of Downtime
In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, studies have shed light on several other potential health benefits associated with vacationing, including:

  • Decreased depression – A study conducted by Marshfield Clinic of 1,500 women in rural Wisconsin determined that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression and increased stress than women who took vacations at least twice a year. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh's Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities – including taking vacations – contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression. The benefits of vacationing also extended to lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.
  • Less stress – A study released last year by the American Psychological Association concluded that vacations work to reduce stress by removing people from activities and environments that tend to be sources of stress. Similarly, a Canadian study of nearly 900 lawyers found that taking vacations helped alleviate job stress.
  • Improved productivity – The professional services firm Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that, for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent, and frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm. Additionally, research by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working.

"Many of these studies point to the importance of achieving balance in life," said Blake. "At MHN, for example, we offer a series of work-life seminars to help manage stress and enhance wellness by striking a balance between meeting daily responsibilities and challenges, while also weaving in relaxation."

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