Annual Leave: How travelling could improve your health

“Nihon ni ikimasu!” I’m taking some annual leave for an overseas vacation this year, and you could, too. Here are some top reasons why travel is good for your health.

Did you take your annual leave this year? If not, make it your resolution to do so next year. Here’s why taking a break is good for your physical and mental health.

New Zealanders: hard-working or workaholics?

Expedia’s 2015 “vacation deprivation” study shows that out of the whole world, Kiwis can be reluctant to take their full amount of annual leave and relax away from work.

Of the 20 days (4 weeks) of paid leave we are offered, New Zealadn workers who did the Expedia survey took just 15 on average, leaving 5 days unused.

Of the 26 countries surveyed, only the South Koreans and Japanese left more holiday tme unused (at 9 and 8 days unused respectively). Workers in India, Italy and Sweden also left 5 days unused, on average.

Why taking your leave is good for your health

1. You could prevent a heart attack

It has been proven that not taking holidays can increase your stress, anxiety, and give you higher blood pressure. All of these factors combined can lead to fatal or chronic heart problems. The old saying “stress’ll kill you” isn’t just a truism – it’s really true!

Meanwhile, taking a holiday provides many health and fitness benefits. Many workers report being more active during their holidays, walking ten kilometres a day while sightseeing, or taking a morning run along the beach every day.

The Framingham Study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology way back in 1991 concluded that not taking your annual leave was bad for your heart health. It studied busy women from 1948 to 1991, measuring how often they took holidays and how many had heart attacks, accounting for other lifestyle factors such as attitudes, number of children, and finances. The study found that taking a holiday twice a year will halve your risk of developing heart attacks or having a fatal heart problem.

2. You’ll come back to work ready to be more productive than before

Experts say stress overload from not taking a break regularly can damage your productivity and work performance. Google knows that taking time off is valuable to them, not just their employees – that’s why they give their employees plenty of unpaid time off to volunteer for a worthy cause outside of work.

Simply staying at home and not going into the office won’t do it, though, especially if you’re still answering emails from your phone. You need to actually find a space separate from work in which to relax and restore your well-being. Studies show new surroundings can be especially useful for this. So travelling, even to somewhere local, is a great fix for stress.

Dr Margaret King, Director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis think tank, says holidays should be about experiencing a new environment. “With a short list of activities each day, freed up from the complexities of ongoing projects and relationships, the mind can reset. Humans thrive on novelty, and travel offers the complete package with new faces, sounds and sights.”

3. You’ll sleep better

It’s well established that not getting enough sleep, mixed with high stress at work or home, is bad for your brain’s performance and efficiency. The Better Health Channel points out that before electricity gave us new lighting options, humans slept for 10 hours a day while the sun was down.

Today, the average worker sleeps for just 6-7 hours a night, and fatigue is damaging to your health. Doctors identify fatigue as the cause of a vast range of physical problems including headaches, dizziness, vision loss, and muscle weakness. It also causes mental problems such as memory loss, reduced concentration, and reduced motivation. Fatigue causes 1 in 6 accidents on the road, so it’s no small thing.

The answer is to regularly get away somewhere you can catch up on those missing Zs. Reserve those hours during your holiday just as you’ve reserved your tickets. Don’t plan so many activities that you have to get up at 6am and fall into bed at midnight.

When you get home from your vacation, take a look at the Better Health Channel’s tips for getting a better night sleep.

4. You’ll save your mental health

Corinne Usher was the manager of the Buckinghamshire NHS mental health psychology service for 20 years, and she says taking a break is good for your relationships with family, friends, and work colleagues.

“Not taking our full annual leave entitlement can lead to people feeling resentful towards colleagues in the workplace, and more likely to make mistakes,” she explains. Our family relationships also improve when we are not dealing with people through a filter of emotional exhaustion.

She points to research that shows a holiday makes us more creative problem solvers, refreshes our motivation for work, decreases mental and emotional stress, and increases our happiness.

By contrast, a study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that people who work more than 11 hours a day are more than twice as likely (as people who work 7-8 hours) to have a major depressive episode. This applied even to workers who had no prior mental health issues or family history of depression.

A 2014 study by Diamond Resorts International in the USA found that over three-quarters of survey respondents stayed happy long after their holiday, if they took a trip away at least once a year. Part of the reason for this was that reminiscing about pleasant holiday memories triggered new waves of happiness long after the trip itself was finished.

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