I’ve spent most of my career life working in travel media, promoting nearly every destination around the globe, from Bali to Belgium to Branson, Missouri. Despite my best efforts to inspire and motivate, many Americans are averse to taking a vacation. As in a full paid vacation.
The numbers don’t lie. We forfeited an estimated 658 million unused (paid) vacation days in 2015, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association. What’s more, 61 percent of us still work while on vacation, either unable or unwilling to temporarily shut off the do-do-do switch somehow hard-wired to career success.
When I spot anxiety-riddled tourists formatting spreadsheets on their laptops or on the phone negotiating deals in exotic destinations, clearly on a “vacation” (as they’re usually accompanied by an annoyed spouse or indifferent travel companions), I raise an eyebrow. When I hear someone boast about not having taken a day off work in several years, I silently shake my head.
My reactions aren’t because these worker bees are missing out on the priceless education that comes through travel — a chance to step into a different environment and learn something new about humanity and themselves. Nor is it because they’re missing out on amazing life memories that can be produced within a single vacation — the kind that become epic tales we re-tell and re-tell well into old age.
No, what has me most concerned is what not taking a vacation does to our health: It can slowly kill us.
This isn’t a hyperbole. Science backs this up. Taking a break from work, from the office, from the “daily grind” is necessary to the survival of our physical, mental and emotional health. It’s an opportunity to unplug in order to recharge — a paradoxical analogy, yes, but one grounded in scientific fact.
Here are some of the ways a vacations make us healthier humans (and ultimately more effective employees).
Improved heart health
Men who vacation regularly were 32 percent less likely to die from a heart attack, and for women this figure jumps to 50 percent less likely. This is according to the Framingham Heart Study, the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease.
A study conducted by Marshfield Clinic of 1,500 women found that those who vacationed less often than once every two years were more likely to suffer from depression than women who took vacations at least twice a year. Similarly, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities, including taking vacation, led to higher positive emotional levels and less depression.
A recent study by the American Psychological Association concluded that vacations work to reduce stress by removing people from activities and environments that tend to be sources of stress.
Surveys show nearly three-quarters of people who vacation regularly feel energized and more ready to tackle the tasks at hand; whereas continuous work with no breaks or vacations can be numbing, tiring and lead to a lack of focus.
An internal study conducted by Ernst & Young found that, for each additional 10 hours of vacation its employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8 percent. To boot, frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm. These results were mirrored in research by the Boston Consulting Group: high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working.
Perhaps these findings have you saying to yourself, “Well, duh. This is all so obvious.” If so, wonderful. Make it motivation to use that paid vacation time. Put in for it today.
And if you sense any judgement from others (your colleagues, your boss), or start to self-judge your motivation, recall these stats. Reframe the act of taking a vacation as an investment in your health rather than “unnecessary” playtime away from the office — because the playtime that comes with a vacation is, in fact, necessary to your overall well-being.
Take your paid vacation (and unplug from the laptop and cell phone) because older, wiser, healthier version of yourself will thank you later.