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A Vacation Away Keeps the Doctor at Bay

Surveys Show Americans Don't Use Their Leave Time
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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.

In that study, conducted by Brooks Gump, PhD, of the department of psychology at the State University of New York at Oswego, the frequency of vacationing was studied among more than 12,000 men at high risk for heart disease over a nine-year period. Results showed that men who took vacations had significantly less risk of dying from heart disease -- or any other condition -- than men who did not.

Muney says the results suggest that American employers who make it a practice to monitor employees who take too much time off, would do well to also monitor those who work too much. It could save them money in healthcare costs, he says.

Cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington, says the Psychosomatic Medicine study confirms his own belief that too much work and not enough play is bad for the heart. "When my patients tell me they can't afford to take a vacation, I tell them they can't afford not to," he tells WebMD.

Sinatra and Muney both agree that what you do on your vacation is not nearly so important as what you don't do. "Don't take your busy life along with you," Sinatra says. "A vacation should truly be a holiday."

And Muney says, "The message should be: Leave your laptop at home."

Both Sinatra and Muney say that what makes for a healthy vacation is really a holiday of the mind. Your vacation could be in the backyard watching the grass grow, as long as you stay there long enough to forget about work, they say.

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