The Grapevine

Vacations Are Good For Your Health, Could Improve Longevity

Consider yourself a bit of a workaholic? Well, that office report can wait, you might want to start looking up flights and hotel rooms instead. 

New findings suggest that people who experience long-term stress and take lesser annual time off work have a higher risk of dying young than their counterparts.

The study titled "Increased mortality despite successful multifactorial cardiovascular risk reduction in healthy men. 40-year follow-up of the Helsinki businessmen study intervention trial" was recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

The research team examined data on more than 1,200 Finnish businessmen collected over the course of four decades. When recruited in the mid-1970s, all the participants were middle-aged and had at least one of the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease — smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, glucose intolerance, or being overweight.

The participants were split into a control group and an intervention group where the latter regularly received advice to exercise enough, to eat right, to maintain a healthy weight, to stop smoking, etc. If advice was not effective, the group also received the recommended drugs to lower blood pressure and lipids.

By the end of the study, the risk of cardiovascular disease did drop by 46 percent in the intervention group compared to the control group. However, more deaths had occurred in the intervention group during the 15-year follow-up in 1989.

Within the intervention group, men who took less than three weeks off from work each year were 37 percent more likely to die young over the next 30 years. However, the risk of death remained the same within the control group.

Even if you follow a healthy diet and lifestyle, co-author Timo Strandberg states that it will not compensate for working too hard and refusing to take days off. Men who took less vacations were found to experience poor sleep quality, which has been linked to adverse effects such as impaired memory, weight gain, and even feelings of loneliness.

The factor of stress could explain why the average longevity in the control group was better than the intervention group. "A businessman with a high status in society goes to the doctor and the doctor says you must reduce weight and stop smoking, and if you can’t do it you get stressed," said Strandberg, a professor at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

This is not to mean that we should avoid being educated about our health. Rather, people need to relax and avoid stressing out, regardless of whether it stems from overworking or from worrying about their health. 

"Asking 95-year-old people what was the reason they reached 95, almost always the response I get was 'I enjoyed life, I had a nice time'," noted Joep Perk, spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology. "It’s not about chasing risk factors. Don’t forget to enjoy life, you only have one."