It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that vacations are good for us—after all, taking time for ourselves to discover new places, to engage in activities we enjoy and even just to spend quality time with family and friends all seem like great things to do and pleasant ways to spend our time. But vacations have some other surprising health benefits that you may not know about. These 8 benefits show why taking even just a short vacation is good for you and everyone around you (including your co-workers!).
8. Vacations Decrease Stress
We’ll start with the obvious: taking a vacation is a great way to bust stress, a view supported by multiple studies and the American Psychological Association. The day-to-day grind of our hectic lives can leave us feeling overwhelmed, like we have too much to do and too little time. Often, we have competing demands: maybe there’s a big deadline at work that’s fast approaching, but you need to make time to care for a relative or child. Evenings and weekends sometimes aren’t enough time to unwind. Taking a vacation gives us more space and time for ourselves, to do the things we like to do and things we want to do. It allows us to get away from, say, the co-worker we don’t like or to forget about doing the laundry. Even though it’s a temporary escape, taking the time off can have a huge effect on our stress levels.
7. Your Health Will Improve
Several studies have shown links between vacation time and decreased risk of particular disorders and diseases. In the landmark Framingham Heart Study, taking regular vacation time was linked to a lower risk of heart disease, an outcome that was repeated in other studies, like the National Institutes of Health’s Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. While it’s hard to say if the vacation itself lowered the risk (perhaps by lowering stress levels) or if taking vacation time is just a habit of people who live lower-risk lifestyles, regular vacation time was definitely implicated in improved cardiovascular health. People who took at least 1 week of vacation each year were 30% less likely to take a heart attack than their colleagues who skipped vacation time. So book your getaway—it’s good for your heart.
6. Relationships Grow Stronger
It’s no secret that the key to successful relationships is spending time with other people. Unfortunately, our personal ties often take a backseat to professional pursuits. Working too much can not only put you under stress but also cause your relationships to suffer, especially if you start cutting people off, turning down invites or bringing stress into your interactions with friends and loved ones. A vacation allows us time to reconnect with the people we actually want to have in our lives. Traveling is especially good for deepening bonds between people: vacations are quality time for relationships and shared experiences, good and bad, help bring people together. People with strong bonds tend to feel less stressed, are less susceptible to disease and are less prone to mental health issues such as depression.
5. You Mental Health Will be Better
Physical health improvement isn’t the only benefit of taking a vacation; mental health is also affected by whether or not people take vacation time. A study by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin reported that women who took vacation time on a regular basis had a lower risk of depression. A study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind Body Center had similar findings. Again, multiple factors come into play—such as getting more Vitamin D by visiting a sun destination in the winter or simply allowing the body to recuperate—but there’s no denying vacation can lower the risk of mental disorders like depression and burnout. If your boss puts up a fuss about you taking time off, tell them you’re doing them a favor—depression-related losses in productivity cost employers around $79 billion every year.
4. It Helps our Brains Recharge
We talked about how vacation time can help your mental and physical health in the short term and how it can be preventative—but it can also help your brain itself. Most of us have routines and rote tasks; we’ll find ourselves essentially on repeat, doing the same thing over and over. That doesn’t allow us much mental flexibility; we’re less likely to be spontaneous or creative, especially in heavily routinized jobs. And when we are asked to be creative, we’re likely to find that we’re tapped out; our brains are tired. Just as vacation gives our bodies a break, it also gives our minds a chance to recharge. This is especially true when we get out and explore. Making our own schedules, being spontaneous and learning new things actually energize our brains, giving us new experiences to analyze.
3. Vacation Gives us a New Perspective
Any good traveler knows that the best way to learn about the world around us is to get out and explore it. That can mean jetting off to an exotic locale or simply checking out a new museum on the other side of town. These new experiences can help us learn about the way that other people live. When we learn about different cultures and peoples through first-hand experience, we learn to be more sympathetic and understanding of those peoples, their cultures and their ways of life. This helps us develop an awareness and appreciation of others. These new perspectives can be beneficial in many ways: they can be earth-shattering enough for us to decide to start a movement or to change our habits, or they can subtly shift our mindsets to view problems in new ways—and maybe see solutions we didn’t see before.
2. It Boosts Productivity
The effects of vacation last even after we get back to the office. For one thing, rested minds (and bodies) tend to be more creative, which means we see new and inventive ways of solving problems. If you’re trying to get a big promotion, that can be a huge help. Being rested also gives us the mental resilience to keep working, even under stress, which can help us achieve goals or meet deadlines. And being rested has another huge advantage: it simply allows us to be at our best, which means we do more work and good work. When we don’t take vacations, we can feel ground down, bored or tired. A vacation helps us come back to the office ready to tackle all the problems we might have felt were insurmountable before we went away.
1. Vacations are Incentives
Psychologists have long talked about reward/punishment paradigms, wondering what works better to motivate people. In most cases, rewards are better motivators—and a vacation is a huge motivator for most people. Up to 8 weeks before a vacation, people will notice positive effects on their work; they will be more motivated to achieve goals and more productive. The vacation becomes a reward for a job well done. This incentive is so powerful that experts recommend planning your next getaway almost immediately upon your return. Having something to look forward to will help you slog through the tough times at the office or at home—and you’ll feel that you’ve earned the time off when you do finally get to take a couple of days or a couple of weeks for yourself.