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Get Outta Here! Vacations Are a Serious Matter

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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."

In fact, what psychologists call rumination -- those circulating, stressful thoughts -- "can extend the effects of stress. Ruminating while you're running defeats the health benefits of the exercise," says Gump.

"Studies looking at acute stress reaction show that people who are under a lot of 'background stress' -- constant stress -- react more to the acute stressors that happen every day," he tells WebMD. "They would be at higher risk for [heart] disease. We also know that background stress causes poorer health behaviors, too. They're eating more fatty foods, drinking more, have higher cholesterol levels, smoke more."

A vacation can give a stressed-out worker some sense of mastery over his universe -- and that in itself brings relief, says one psychologist.

"A lot of stressful things in the work environment are chronic, and mostly people don't have control over them," says Steve Jex, PhD, author of Stress and Job Performance. "If you have a boss you don't like, there's nothing you can do about it. The only way to get relief is to get away. Get out of that environment for awhile. That may be the best thing for you." Jex is also an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

And at least one cardiologist is adding "take a vacation" to his advice to patients. Stress reduction -- in whatever form it takes -- significantly reduces risk of heart disease and death in those individuals who are at risk, says Laurence Sperling, MD, medical director of preventive cardiology at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. Sperling reviewed the study for WebMD.

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