What’s the Damage?
Can a Caribbean jaunt stave off heart disease? Possibly. When researchers from the State University of New York at Oswego surveyed 12,000 men ages 35 to 57, they found that those who didn’t take at least one week-long vacation per year boosted their risk of dying from heart disease by 30 percent during the course of the nine-year study. Plus, workaholics are at risk for stress-related high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Can You Undo It?
Yes—any stress reduction, even for a few days, gives your heart and blood pressure a break. In one small New Zealand study, researchers found that vacationers slept about an hour longer than they did at home and got three times more deep, rejuvenating sleep. Read on to learn how to use your next vacation to boost your health.
Don’t Work This Weekend
Can’t book an indulgent getaway for a while? Even making relaxation a priority over the weekend can help. When Finnish researchers tracked the health habits of 800 women and men for 28 years, they found that those who didn’t take a break from work-related stress over the weekend were three times more likely to have a fatal heart attack as those who got plenty of rest.
So don’t work this weekend. Skip home repairs, major lawn and garden work (unless it’s a hobby you really love) and any other stressful obligations. Adopt a “staycation” mentality: eat a leisurely breakfast, go for a scenic stroll, visit a local attraction, dine out with friends. Then plan to do the same on one day of every weekend from now on.
Plan a Real Vacation
Half the battle to taking a trip is committing to the time. So get out your calendar and pick a week (or more). Commit to it at work and among your family. Merely looking for the perfect week-long sojourn can make you happier, according to 2010 Dutch research. The scientists found that the biggest mood boost comes during the eight weeks before a vacation, when you’re anticipating it. After their getaways, most people did not report feeling any happier than those who didn’t travel.
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Make the Trip Relaxing
Squeezing in too many activities can suck the joy out of the best-intentioned getaway. And you may be missing out on the health benefits of vacation if you try to do too much or agree to do things you don’t want to (hate water-skiing? Don’t force it—stay curled up with your Kindle on the beach instead). Pack your trip with activities you enjoy, but be sure to bake in plenty of unscheduled time too.
See Sights on Foot
Using your feet makes for happy vacations—exercise releases feel-good endorphins, plus you’ll explore areas you likely otherwise wouldn’t. Take advantage of outdoor attractions such as sculpture gardens, nature trails, lakeside paths, or stretches of beautiful beach for long walks. With a little physical activity every day, you’ll also feel less guilty about indulging in a decadent dessert.
Flex Your Best Health Habits
Sure, vacation can be filled with diet and other health landmines (excess drinking, sunburn) but try to view it as an opportunity to enjoy good-for-you habits too. Indulge in the great fresh fruit selection at the breakfast buffet, partake in afternoon catnaps, opt for a glass of heart-healthy red wine at dinner instead of a pina colada calorie bomb. Always been curious about yoga? Give the hotel's beach-side class a go.
We’re not saying you can’t live a little, but if you totally pig out and never get an ounce of exercise, you’ll return home feeling worse for the wear.
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Consider Rural Over Urban
Vacations in cities are loud, exciting, and exhausting. Vacations in the country are quiet, peaceful, and recharging. For your health, the latter is what you need most. That doesn’t mean choose a boring vacation—just one that gets you away from the hustle and bustle you face at home.
Stash Electronics in the Safe
The combination of wireless communications technology and worldwide corporations mean that you can instantly plug into work at any time, any place. Fight this urge! If you must bring your work computer or BlackBerry, leave them in the hotel turned off most of the day and set aside dedicated times to check them.
Same goes for your personal online life too: Enjoy your vacation instead of constantly taking time-outs to post real-time photos on Facebook or Twitter.