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Holidays for your heart!

In today's performance-driven world, people are working longer hours as their work continues to be a priority over their recreational and leisure time - but exhaustion and work stress have been shown to negatively affect physical and mental health.

With the exception of the US, where workers are not entitled to paid leave, workers in developed countries are entitled to between 30 and 35 paid days off (including public holidays). In many places, workers do not exhaust their holidays completely. The US is at the bottom of this list, where up to 50% of employees waive their leave granted by their employer.

For several decades, science has been investigating the question of how holidays and leisure time affect health. As early as 1992, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study examining the influence of psychosocial factors on cardiovascular risk in women. For this study, the authors relied on data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has been systematically collected since 1948 in the US city of Framingham (Massachusetts). Examination of the data from 749 women, collected over a 20-year period, showed a correlation between cardiovascular risk and the frequency of taking time off. Participants provided the information over very long intervals. Going on vacation every six years or less showed a nearly eight-fold higher risk of coronary heart disease or a heart attack, than for women who took two breaks each year.

In 2000, scientists from the University of New York at Oswego described a similar correlation between time off work and cardiovascular risk among men. Over the course of nine years, they accompanied more than 12,000 men and found that annual leave reduced mortality risk by nearly 20%, as well as the likelihood of a fatal myocardial infarction by approximately 30%. However, holidays and leisure time not only affect the cardiovascular system, they also affect our overall health and well-being. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have shown that people who spend more time enjoying pleasurable recreational activities are not only happier, but objectively have better health parameters as well. These include lower blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference, as well as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The personal need for leisure and recreation time may vary from individual to individual. However, regular downtimes are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. The positive effects set in after a short while. It has been shown that people feel subjectively better while on holiday, even experiencing a relief of chronic pain and have more restful and longer sleep after just a few days. For this reason it is advisable to take time off work for more than just a few days. Scientific evidence indicates that breaks for between seven and ten days are the most relaxing. Longer periods, on the other hand, do not seem to contribute to any further increase in the positive effects.

Depending on the level of work stress afterwards, the positive effects of taking a holiday can last for several weeks. In order to optimally benefit from the time off, it is advisable to leave e-mails, paperwork etc. completely untouched. Researchers at the University of Tel Aviv have shown that people on holiday recover much less if they continue to answer their professional e-mails and phone calls. If you want to stay healthy in the long-term, you should pay attention to taking adequate free time outside of work, to get away from work completely at regular intervals for several days, and in the meantime also try to leave your work phone and inbox unanswered. Ultimately, it does not only benefit the cardiovascular system and the psyche, but also increases professional productivity and performance.

Image 1 © “milanmarkovic78” / Fotolia.com

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