We often see comparisons about how the health of Americans compares to those living in other countries, and one of our biggest (and least discussed) health risks is the fact that Americans don't take enough vacations.
While many other countries mandate that employers give their workers four weeks of paid vacation or more, many of us here in the U.S. take one week of vacation or less. According to a 2014 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the career website Glassdoor, employees use just 51% of their eligible vacation time. Plus, 61% of Americans say that they work while on vacation.
What many people don't realize is that vacations aren’t a luxury, they're essential to your health. This is not propaganda being circulated by travel agents; it's solid fact supported by impeccable research.
Two Studies Have Shown Vacations Can Have a Significant Impact on Heart Health
Some of the most compelling study findings on the heart health benefits of vacations come from two major clinical investigations on cardiovascular disease: the famous Framingham Heart Study, and the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT).
As part of their larger study, Framingham researchers interviewed 749 women ages 45 to 64 that were free of cardiac disease, and then followed them for 20 years. The investigators sorted through demographic factors such as age and psychological factors like tension and anger, and variables like cholesterol, smoking habits, and body mass index. What they found is that a lack of vacations was a predictor of the 20-year incidence of heart attack and death.
Likewise, in the MRFIT study investigators studied nine-year death rates among 12,000 men to evaluate the relative risk for health conditions. They concluded that for middle-aged men, increased frequency of annual vacations is associated with a reduction in deaths from any cause.
Those who took regular vacations were 20 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who skipped vacations, and they were 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease. Even when researchers controlled for issues that might have made individuals more or less likely to take a trip—like education and income levels and health status—the correlation between more vacations and fewer deaths held steady.
Plus, in my cardiology practice I saw an increase in heart attack cases in both men and women who took little or no vacation time.
The Good News Is That You Don't Need to Travel Far to Get These Heart Health Benefits
The healing power of a vacation is getting away from the everyday stressors of work and home life so you're more likely to relax. It also gives you the opportunity to indulge in the pleasures of life, which is extraordinarily good for body and mind. You can reconnect with nature, family members, and friends.
Don’t let a lack of money hold you back. I can tell you from personal experience that as I was growing up my family often had little or no surplus cash for family trips, yet my father always came up with creative solutions. For example, we went camping not too far from home, packing the groceries we would have eaten at home, and off we went. For a minimal financial investment, my dad gave me some of the best memories of my life!
Here are 4 budget-friendly vacations you can take:
- Take a “staycation.” Save money by sleeping at home, but plan a trip each day to a place you enjoy—a park, the beach, or a local museum. Pack a lunch to take with you, which is both healthier and easier on your budget.
- Visit a friend. Someone else’s backyard can open up a brand new landscape for you to see. Not only does it give you the chance to see the sites of your friend’s city, it gives you the opportunity to reconnect with a good friend, which is powerfully relaxing in and of itself.
- Stay at a budget-friendly hotel that has amenities built right in. I often stay in hotels that offer breakfast, and have an on-site workout room and pool. Many hotels also have mini-refrigerators available so you can bring along healthy lunch items and snacks.
- Vacation off-season. I have a colleague who always takes her beach trip before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. At those times, the prices are often half of what they are at other times of the year.
Now it's your turn: Do you have any vacation ideas to add to my list?