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A Vacation Away Keeps the Doctor at Bay

Surveys Show Americans Don't Use Their Leave Time

WebMD Feature

"Hurry up and relax."

That could be the slogan for what a lot of Americans consider a vacation. But recent research and a growing cadre of experts suggest that the American penchant for all work and no play could be bad for your health.

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"We need to take vacations seriously," says Alan Muney, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Oxford Health Plans Inc. "While we readily accept that getting immunizations, taking vitamins, or getting mammograms and pap smears is good preventive medicine, something as simple as taking a vacation is not accepted."

Two recent surveys appear to bear him out. One survey conducted by Oxford Health Plans of more than 600 men and women shows that about one in five people report feeling so overworked that they are unable to use up all of their allotted vacation time.

The survey showed that while most employers make it easy to keep medical appointments (70%) and return to work after illness (68%), other companies exude a corporate culture that discourages healthy behavior, according to the Oxford survey.

Approximately 19% of survey respondents said workplace pressures make them feel they must attend work even when injured or sick; 17% said it is difficult to take time off or leave work in an emergency, and 8% believe that if they were to become seriously ill they would be fired or demoted.

The survey also showed that 14% of respondents feel company management only promotes people who habitually work late, according to Oxford.

Another survey of 1,100 company executives by the American Management Association, or AMA, found similar results. It showed that only about a third of executives would get away from work for more than a week at a time.

What's more, when American executives do take vacation, they are very liable to take their work with them -- checking email and voice mail regularly and using cell phones. And more and more people are actually taking work along with them.

Like the Oxford survey, the AMA survey found that although one-quarter of executives have earned more than two weeks off, only 7% would actually use the time this summer.

Both surveys seem to underscore what Muney calls a "cultural belief that not working is a bad thing." And he contrasts that belief with European countries where it is the norm for workers to have three or more weeks of vacation a year.

"When we do take vacation, we seem to take these long-weekend type approaches that may or may not add up to having enough time to unwind," Muney tells WebMD.

Muney says the Oxford survey was prompted by, among other things, a study appearing in the September-October 2000 edition of the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine, showing that vacationing could help prevent heart disease.

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