Go ahead and tell your boss.

By Elizabeth Preske
October 05, 2018

It turns out taking a vacation can be as important to your physical health as exercising and eating your fruits and veggies.

In a 40-year study that will be published by the Journal of Nutrition, Heath & Aging, the University of Helsinki, Finland had recruited over 1,200 businessmen between the ages of 40 and 55 in 1974 and 1975. Each participant was at risk for cardiovascular disease, the risk factors including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight.

Participants were randomly placed in one of two groups: an intervention group and a control group. In the intervention group, the investigators advised the men every four months for five years to exercise, eat healthy foods, achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and to quit smoking. Some of the participants in this group were also given drugs to lower blood pressure and lipid levels.

The men in the control group, on the other hand, did not receive advice from the investigators, but were provided their usual healthcare.

As one would expect, the men in the intervention group reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 46 percent after five years. When the researchers followed up with the participants 15 years later, however, they found that more men from the intervention group had died than those in the control group.

These findings led the investigators to follow up with the participants again in 2014, at which point they examined national death registers and what had been "previously unreported baseline data on amounts of work, sleep, and vacation."

The results from the research showed that up until 2004, the intervention group had a higher death rate than the control group. From 2004 to 2015, the death rates in both groups were the same.

After studying the baseline data on work, sleep, and vacation, the researchers noted one significant piece of information that could explain these findings: participants in the intervention group had a 37 percent higher risk of dying if they took three weeks or less annual vacation compared to those who took more than three weeks between 1974 and 2004.

Related: 9 Signs You Need a Vacation

"In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations. This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention," said professor Timo Strandberg. "Don't think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays. Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress."

While the amount of vacation that participants in the control group took did not affect their risk of death, Strandberg believes that "the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on [men in the intervention group] by adding stress to their lives."

Strandberg emphasized that the results from this study do by no means suggest that health education is "harmful" to one's health. "Rather, they suggest that stress reduction is an essential part of programs aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle advice should be wisely combined with modern drug treatment to prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals."

Now go ahead and book that much-needed vacation. Your life could be at risk.

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