This Is the Minimum Number of Vacation Days Linked To Increased Longevity

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Research out of the European Society of Cardiology suggests taking more than three weeks of vacation days may help you live longer. The 40-year study initially set out to examine the result healthy living (aerobic exercise, a balanced diet, and putting down the cigarettes) had on the long-term risk of developing heart disease. But researchers took a fresh set of eyes to the study data recently and learned that the most important indicator of longevity was actually stress.

At the study’s inception in 1974, 1,222 middle aged men were divided into two groups. One group was given oral and written instructions on how to live a "healthy" life. This was the intervention group. They were put on workout regimens, received nutritional counseling, were assisted in their efforts to quit smoking and, when necessary, given prescriptions to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol. The second group served as the control and received no intervention from the researchers.

Experts In This Article
  • Timo E. Strandberg, MD, PhD,, Timo E. Strandberg, MD, PhD, is a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and physician-in chief at the Helsinki University Hospital, Department of Medicine. He has participated in several national and international studies and is the...

The two groups were followed for five years, and unsurprisingly, the risk of cardiovascular disease was indeed reduced by 46 percent in the group that received intervention. However, at a 15-year follow-up in 1989, researchers found more men in the intervention group had died than men in the control group.

Recent analysis of the study data discovered a connection between the men who died in the intervention group that may explain this mystery: They all took shorter and fewer vacation days. Men in the intervention group who took less than three weeks of annual vacation had a 37 percent greater chance of dying between 1974 and 2004 than those who took more than three weeks off.

"Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays," Timo Strandberg, PhD, lead study author and University of Helsinki professor, said in a press release. "Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress."

In its 2020 Stress in America report, the American Psychological Association found that 49 percent of adults said their life has been negatively impacted by stress. The top reported symptoms were increased tension in their bodies and mood imbalances like being quick to anger or "snapping" on a loved one. More than 6 in 10 adults said a significant source of that stress was work.

The effects of chronic stress are not limited to tight shoulders and mood swings. Stress exacerbates existing health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and skin and hair conditions. You’d be hard pressed to find a single aspect of human health that is immune to the damage caused by stress. Aptly named "time poverty" is the toll being overly busy takes on your health and freedom to engage in self-care practices.

When workers do have paid time off (PTO) from work, many find they are unable to utilize that time to travel or relax, instead using those days for doctor’s appointments, childcare coverage and errand-running.

In the U.S. Travel Association's 2018 Project: Time Off, 84 percent of 4,349 adults surveyed said that while they value using their PTO for travel, lack of comprehensive coverage at work, combined with the increasing cost of travel and the daily responsibilities of having children keep them taking time off.

The unfortunate truth is that having any PTO is considered a luxury in the United States, whereas, in other countries, time off from work is seen as essential. In Germany, for example, it is legally mandatory that all companies guarantee more than five weeks of paid vacation for workers. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the distinction of being the only advanced economy that doesn't guarantee any paid time off.

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