5 Healthy Reasons to Plan Your Vacation Right Now

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In spite of more than my share of summer vacation mishaps—I’m thinking sunburn, bug bites, and that time I dropped a fistful of lit sparklers onto a dozen waiting boxes, igniting them all and sending everyone scrambling for safety—I typically come home from vacations feeling relaxed and happy. So why don’t I take more vacations?

Turns out I don’t take them because I’m an American workaholic. An Expedia Vacation Deprivation study showed that Americans got 14 vacation days in 2012 and took 12 of them compared to the French who used 30 of the vacation days given to them. Workers in Spain get a minimum of 22 paid vacation days plus 12 national holidays. (I’m moving.)

It’s not enough that everybody else is having more vacation fun than me, it turns out they’re also probably healthier than me—thanks to all those vacation days they’re taking. I’m determined to take more vacation.

Not convinced? Here’s a list of some of the good things a vacay may do for you.

1.  Help you bust the stress rut (and maybe your stress gut)
Even just a day playing golf or a weekend getaway can help reduce stress hormones and even lower your blood pressure, studies show. So, imagine what a week or more could do for you?! From making you look and feel younger to being able to fight off more colds during the year, eliminating stress can work wonders. (Plus: we know stress is a contributor to packing on the pounds, so vacay away that stress and who knows how the scale may react?)

2. Give your heart a break
Studies show that your ticker needs a vacay, too. In fact, maybe it needs two vacations a year. The Framingham Heart Study showed that women who take at least two vacations a year are eight times less likely to have coronary heart disease. A study done with men who had an elevated risk for coronary disease, showed that those who didn’t take an annual vacation were 32% more likely to die from a heart attack than the vacationers.

3. Help you get closer to your family
Xinran Lehto, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at Purdue University, and other Purdue researchers have reported on the positive impact that getaways have on families. Getting away from day-to-day stresses (even if they’re replaced with new stresses, i.e. starting the dock on fire with 12 boxes of sparklers) helps families connect, Purdue research shows. Those new, shared experiences promote a closeness and positive ties that last far after the vacation ends.

4. Make you smarter at work
A vacation really can be the pause that refreshes—especially if you spend it disconnected from electronic devices and catching up on sleep. You may even be better at your job. That’s because stress can have an impact on decision making, according to research done by the National Institutes of Health. After some days free of the daily stresses, you may be able to make more thoughtful decisions at work (instead of those reactive snap decisions).

5. Make you happier
A Wisconsin study showed lower levels of tension and depression among women who took vacations more frequently (once or twice a year) versus those who vacationed less often. In fact, it turns out that even simply anticipating a vacation is a mood booster, according to a Dutch study. So excuse me while I go back to daydreaming about my next vacation. This time I’m going to Prague (and no sparklers will be involved). Ah…I feel better already!

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