Get Outta Here! Vacations Are a Serious Matter
Sept. 21, 2000 -- Grab the car keys. Check a travel web site. Whatever it takes, get outta there. Get away from work. That annual family vacation -- despite the kids' whining, the traffic tie-ups, the airline delays -- could save your life. A new study shows that people who take annual vacations are less likely to die young -- especially from heart disease.
The message is clear, study author Brooks B. Gump, PhD, MPH, tells WebMD: "Don't skip your annual vacations. We found that people who reported taking no vacation for five years were at a much higher risk of heart disease and [death] further down the line." Gump is assistant professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Gump analyzed data from a nine-year study of nearly 13,000 men -- all between the ages of 35 and 57 -- who were at high risk for heart disease. All completed a lifestyle questionnaire, but in analyzing the data, Gump specifically focused on answers to one question: "Within the last 12 months, have you experienced a vacation?"
He found that 13% of the 13,000 men had not taken vacations. "Those who took regular vacations every year had a lower risk of death when compared to those who skipped their vacations," Gump says. Of those who died, 30% were related to heart disease. The findings were published in the September/October issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Another published study -- the Framingham Heart Study -- looked at the health effects of vacations in women and found a similar effect, Gump tells WebMD. "There was a significant association between infrequent vacationing and increased incidence of [heart attacks] or death due to heart disease." Another study has shown that men who developed psychosomatic illnesses were less likely to take vacations than other men.
The value of vacations lies in the change of pace itself -- getting your mind off daily worries. "It's taking time out from the everyday, relentless stressors," says Gump. "Even anticipating a vacation can ease stress levels. It removes anticipated threats, provides a period of what we call 'signaled safety'. Anticipated threats are known to have adverse effects as great as -- if not greater than -- the threat itself."
Vacation rids us of the bad habit of what he calls 'vigilance,' Gump tells WebMD. "On vacation, you can let your guard down. You can stop worrying about what could happen."
Also, vacations have their unique, restorative powers. "It's those health-protective effects from social support of family and from exercising more. Those things are particularly helpful if done in the context of no stress," he says.
But a true vacation, Gump tells WebMD, means truly leaving the office behind. "Bring along your pager or cell phone, and you won't get the full benefit of the vacation. You're constantly on guard for potential stress."