MUNICH, Germany — Taking vacations can leave us lifelong memories — and now it turns out they can also lead us to a longer life, according to a recent study.
Finnish researcher Timo Strandberg, a professor at the University of Helsinki, says his 40-year study shows that getting away regularly can add years to one’s lifespan. “Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays,” he says in a media release by the European Society of Cardiology. “Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress.”
The long-term study used data pulled from a 1974 study that followed 1,222 middle-aged Finnish male business executives born between 1919 and 1934. Participants all had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, overweight, or glucose intolerance. They were randomly split into two groups and monitored for five years. One group, designated as the “intervention group,” received written or oral advice every four months to do aerobic physical activity, eat a healthier diet, achieve a healthy weight, and stop smoking.
When this health advice wasn’t effective, the intervention group received drugs recommended at the time to lower blood pressure and lipids. The men in the control group received usual healthcare measures and were not visited by the researchers.
In the original study, the risk of cardiovascular disease dropped by 45% in the intervention group compared to the control group. But interestingly, in the 15-year follow-up in 1989, however, there were more deaths in the intervention group than in the control group.
The most recent follow-up study in 2014 used national death registers and examined previously unreported baseline data on the amount of work, sleep, and vacation logged by participants. The researchers revealed that the death rate was higher in the intervention group on a consistent basis until 2004, when death rates in both groups equaled each other between 2004 and 2014.
The authors found that shorter vacations were associated with more deaths in the intervention group, in which men who took three weeks or less of annual vacation time had a 37% greater chance of dying between 1974 and 2004 than those who took more than three weeks vacation. Vacation time had no impact on death risk in the control group.
“The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time. In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations,” says Strandberg. “This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention. We think the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on these men by adding stress to their lives.”
So if you find yourself feeling guilty about using those vacation days at work or aren’t sure if taking a trip is worth it — consider how it may benefit you and your loved ones in the long run.
The study was first presented at the European Society of Cardiology annual congress in 2018 and published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.