Taking a vacation is good for your heart: Medical proof shows it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
It is no longer anecdotal that vacation is good for the heart. Medical evidence now shows that taking a vacation can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. A new study by researchers from Syracuse University, US, published in the journal Psychology & Health, states that a person can reduce their metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms — and therefore their risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) — simply by going on vacation.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If a person has more of them, they are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Currently, four out of five CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
The researchers found that people who went on vacations more frequently in the past 12 months have a lower risk for metabolic syndrome and a lesser number of metabolic symptoms. In other words, they had less risk for cardiovascular disease. The study found that with each additional holiday taken by those who participated in the study, the risk for metabolic syndrome decreased by nearly a quarter. Further, each additional vacation taken in the last 12 months was associated with an 8% decrease in the number of metabolic symptoms.
The findings, said the researchers, are important as metabolic syndrome and the symptoms that define it can be modified. The researchers noted that because these risk factors can be changed, if someone is doing more vacationing, they can decrease their risk for cardiovascular disease by reducing these symptoms.
According to an earlier paper published in JAMA Cardiology, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in the US in 2016, accounting for over 900,000 deaths. The WHO describes cardiovascular diseases as disorders of the heart and blood vessels, which include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease, and other conditions. WHO estimates further show that 17.9 million people die each year from CVD, about 31% of all deaths worldwide. Also, 85% of all CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes.
"What we found is that people who vacation more frequently in the past 12 months have a lowered risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms. This is important because we are seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease, the more vacationing a person does. Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated," says Bryce Hruska, an assistant professor of public health at Syracuse University's Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.
For the study, 63 workers eligible for paid vacation attended a lab visit during which their blood was drawn, and they completed an interview assessing vacationing behavior in the past 12 months.
The assessment was an overall measure of vacation frequency in the past 12 months as well as a measure of 11 different facets for each vacation. These dimensions include each vacation's length, location, financial burden, social context, the participant's positive appraisal of the vacation, the degree to which the participant disengaged from work and their personal life, the activities they engaged in, their alcohol use and sleep habits, and any negative events that occurred during the vacation.
The study participants took approximately five vacations in the past 12 months and used roughly 14 paid vacation days. The findings state that overall, holidays are experienced as 'positive' events. "Notably, relatively little stress was associated with the vacations taken as reflected on multiple dimensions rated by participants: stress incurred from traveling, spending money, and providing childcare while vacationing was rated low. Importantly, one of the most commonly reported activities occurring during vacations were social activities such as spending time with family or sharing a meal with friends. This is significant given the influential role that social relationships have on physical and psychological health," says the paper.
The researchers said that the US is the only industrial nation that does not guarantee paid vacation time to its workers. They said that even among the 77% of American workers who have paid vacation time available, less than half fully utilize it, which could be detrimental to their physical health. They added that people should use the vacation time available to them, as their findings show it could translate into tangible health benefits.