Science Says Taking Vacation Can Add Years To Your Life

by Carolyn de Lorenzo
Kat Wade/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Let’s face it: adulting is hard. The amount of stuff we’ve got to handle on a daily basis — between work, family, friends, and juggling finances, not to mention the time we need for self-care — how the heck are we supposed to fit it all in? Never mind taking a break from day-to-day life to actually take a real vacation. While it can be tough to bust out of our weekly routines and take that much needed time off, not only are vacations a relaxing break from the daily grind, they can also help you live longer. According to new research, one of the health benefits of taking a vacation includes a longer life, and that’s no small thing, right? Kind of puts things into perspective.

And while daily self-care habits like exercise and getting enough sleep are a great way to manage our stress loads and help us live longer, healthier lives overall, research shows that there’s really no substitute for taking vacations. According to a follow up study based on the findings of the Helsinki Businessmen Study — a 40-year long study tracking cardiovascular risk factors in 1,222 businessmen — vacations aren’t just a luxury. In fact, they’re pretty vital for both quality of life and longevity.

CNBC reports that the study of the Helsinki businessmen spanned the 1960s through 2014, and involved two groups. In the control group, the men lived their lives per their usual health habits while receiving standard medical care. The second group — the intervention group — was given advice as to how to improve their health. They quit smoking, improved their diets, and started exercising. Surprisingly, and despite these lifestyle adjustments, the intervention group still had higher mortality rates than the control group if they worked super hard, skimped on sleep, and skipped out on taking vacations.

According to a press release via the European Society of Cardiology, Professor Timo Strandberg of the University of Helsinki, Finland was quoted as saying, “Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress. … Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays.” Strandberg further explained that ongoing stress, and too little sleep or vacation time, “may have overruled any benefit of the intervention,” for these participants. Strandberg also noted that the effort to maintain a healthier lifestyle may have also compounded stress for the intervention group, especially if they were prone to a more stressful lifestyle in the first place.

Sooo, have you put in that request for time off yet?

Professor Strandberg further noted that stress management is key to reducing cardiovascular risk and upping longevity in the long run. While other lifestyle factors like sleep and exercise are also super important, taking breaks and managing stress is pretty pivotal to long-term health. Elite Daily further notes that too much of any type of work — whether related to career, health, or personal development — can increase our stress loads if we’re not careful. Especially if we don’t remember to just take a dang break already, and let it all go for a while.

It's also important to note that while the Helskini study is eye-opening, no women were studied in the course of this research, so more research needs to be done to look at how vacations might impact women. While women are subject to similar career stressors as men are, studies also show that women tend to take on heavier workloads in terms of childcare and housework — workloads that they might not get a break for while they're on a family vacation, for example.

And also, let’s get real with the fact that taking vacations costs money that some folks just don’t have. For some of us, taking time off from work means not only the cost of the vacation itself, but lost income to boot. The good news is that you don’t have fund a lavish beach getaway in order to take care of yourself and avoid burnout. A long weekend at home in your jammies, eating takeout and napping with your dog is totally OK, because staycations rule. As long as you’re taking time to unplug, rest, and create some mental and physical space for yourself away from your daily stressors, your health and well-being will be the better for it in the long run.