Science Says You Need a Vacation

Healthy Living

February 18, 2020

Dreaming of white-sand beaches and fruity cocktails as you gaze out the window at yet another day of winter weather? Time to make that dream into a reality, friend. You probably know that unplugging and getting away from it all can give you a mental boost. But vacations don’t just benefit the mind. Vacations are good for the soul and body. Science says so. Need an excuse to start shopping flights? Check out these real health benefits of taking a vacation — and how to do it the right way.

Mind Over Matter

Vacations might literally change your brain (in a good way). People who experience new things, like traveling to a new place or learning a language, are less likely to suffer from cognitive decay as they get older. That’s thanks to something called “neuroplasticity,” or your brain’s ability to change. New experiences stimulate neuroplasticity. In other words, traveling can keep you sharp and make you sharper. Vacations can also:

  • Make you more creative
  • Make you more agreeable, more open and more emotionally stable
  • Lower your risk for depression
  • Improve your relationships

Studies consistently show that workers benefit from regular breaks. It’s not hard to see the connection between a vacation and a better mood, but there’s some science behind this phenomenon. Working nonstop without a break increases your stress and actually makes it harder for you to relax over time.

One study found that people who work more than 55 hours a week are 33% more likely to have a stroke and 13% more likely to have a heart attack than people who work 35 to 40 hours a week. A different, older study from 1992 found that men who didn’t take vacations were 30% more likely to have a heart attack than men who did. Even worse, women were 50% more likely to have a heart attack than their vacationing peers.

Benefits Beyond the Trip

Being a busy bee might be necessary, but so is taking a break when you can. In fact, taking a break from work is just as vital to your mental, emotional and physical health as regular sleep. Our bodies are designed to need rest. The less rest we get, the worse we perform (in all aspects of life, not just our 9-to-5s).

And it’s not just the vacation itself that can improve your health. Planning for a trip has been shown to be a remarkable mood-lifter. Research on vacationers in the Netherlands found that the anticipation of a trip gives you even more of a boost than the post-vacation glow.

If you’re wondering how to break the news to your boss that it’s time for you to jet set out of the office for a week, here’s a helpful tidbit: Workers who take appropriate amounts of time off perform better at their jobs than people who never take a break. Vacationing employees tend to get more raises, more bonuses and more favorable performance reviews. They’re also more likely to get more done in less time. Per Business Insider, a comparison study in Harvard Business Review in 2015 found that people who aren’t at their desks as much use the time when there more productively.

Go ahead and put in your request for time off. If you’re at a company with paid vacation days, don’t be afraid to use them. But if you work for a place with limited or no time off, make the most of your weekends, evenings and times when you’re away. You don’t have to take long vacations to boost your health. Even 24 unplugged hours can help you push your reset button.

There’s a Right Way to Vacation

You may not need a week-long siesta in a tropical clime to benefit from a getaway. Pick whatever suits your fancy. But there are “rules” to taking a vacation — if you want to maximize the health impact, that is. In short:

  • Pick the right vacation
  • Plan, plan, plan
  • Unplug & simplify
  • Document your travels

First and foremost? Make sure it’s a real vacation for you. Maybe you thrive on the chaos of a 5-day excursion to an Orlando theme park, but maybe the whole idea makes you panic. If that’s the case, skip that particular vacation if your goal is to recharge. Pick a vacation spot that will allow you to take the break you need, whether that’s poolside at an all-inclusive resort or a cozy cabin in the mountains.

Once you know where you’re going, take time to plan out the trip. That doesn’t just mean accommodations and tickets. Let your boss and coworkers know you’ll be out of town, and arrange for someone to cover any work responsibilities you might be missing. Planning is an important part of the vacation process, not only because you need to figure out logistics but because it can actually lift your spirits. Having something to look forward to is a big morale booster.

Our next rule might be tough for some vacationers. We hate to state the obvious, but… vacations are supposed to be a break. As in, you take a break from regular life, which includes work. If you’re someone who sneaks in an email or two while you’re riding the ski lift, it’s time to break the work habit. Vacations only benefit your health if you actually take them. So unplug, unwind and chill. You’ll have plenty of work to come home to, and it can wait until you’re back. If you must work while you’re traveling, then confine your work to a set time each day and stick to that limit.

As for unplugging entirely, that’s up to you. Being present and focused on the fun in front of you will help you enjoy your time away more fully. Researchers do suggest keeping your phone around for pictures, at least. You don’t need to document every second of every day (advice that applies to real life, too). But a few photos of your favorite moments will help you enjoy your trip once you’re back to the ol’ grindstone.