Today’s Health Advice: Take a Vacation

Amber Johnson Care for people

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in 2011, but the wisdom is not dated. We’re reposting now with the knowledge that April is the month for summer vacation planning.

Are you taking a vacation this summer? If so, you may be doing something good for your heart.

A research study looked at 12,000 men over nine years who were at high risk for coronary heart disease. Those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.

In women, taking two vacations a year makes you eight times less likely to suffer a heart attack than women who get around to a vacation every six years (or less).

You can read about both research findings at this New York Times link.

But it doesn’t take a team of university researchers to tell us that vacation is good for the body and soul: you can probably supply your own anecdotal support for the idea that a few days away provides much needed rest or adventure, strengthens relationships with your family, and gives you a fresh outlook on your inbox when you do return to work.

So why don’t we do it more often? One third of all American workers don’t take all the vacation time allowed to them. And when we do escape, we take our work with us. A recent poll from Regus (published in Talent Management magazine) found:

• 50 percent of Americans admit they will work during their vacation this summer
• 75 percent of Americans plan to stay connected to the office in some way while on vacation
• 66 percent will be checking and responding to email during their time off
• 29 percent expect they may have to attend meetings virtually while on vacation

I recently read comments from one worker who said vacation is just “working somewhere else.” It’s hard to imagine that sort of corporate attitude brings any physical or emotional benefit to employees.

So how can you make good use of your vacation time? Check out these suggestions, and share your own:

1.     Get out your calendar now: Sit down tonight with your partner or best friend. Find your mutually-available weeks and block them out for vacation. Look ahead: is there a good week (or two week!) block this summer for making an escape? how will you use a few days this fall? Over the holidays? Is there time yet for a spring rendezvous with your spouse?

2.     Set rules with your travel partner and your colleagues: It’s tough to totally unplug, but you can draw boundaries for when and how you will check in with the office. Can the smartphone stay in the suitcase except for mutually-agreed upon times?  Should your administrative assistant call you only if the big client is on the line? Can you temporarily transfer project responsibility to a trusted colleague?

 3.    Get away: It’s easier to turn off the office if you’re out of your normal routine. Escaping to another city or country helps, but if leaving home isn’t possible find ways to make your house into a work-free zone. Close the office door, set your phone on vibrate and shove it in a drawer, use your personal computer (instead of your work laptop) for watching videos or playing games.

Finally, if you’re a leader within your organization, remember that you set the vacation culture for your team or corporation. Employees will follow your lead: make sure you have the rested and engaged workforce you desire by adopting a pro-vacation attitude. Your staff will appreciate your support for their personal well-being, and it might just save on your corporate health insurance premiums as well. 

For more on why this is important, see Advice for a Workaholic Boss.


Amber Johnson is the Center’s corporate relations advisor, and a passionate advocate for vacations.

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