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Benefits of Taking Vacation

It can be difficult to make time for a vacation, especially when you’re managing a busy schedule filled with work and family obligations. According to a Pew Research study in 2023, 46% of working U.S. adults chose not to use all of the paid time off or PTO available to them.

A few of the most common reasons stated for this decision include fear of getting behind at work, worries about job loss, and not wanting co-workers to have to assume extra work in their absence. 

There’s more to taking a break from work than just using up your vacation days. Research has consistently found that there are many health benefits to taking a vacation. In fact, taking time off is beneficial for both physical and mental health. 

Stepping away from work for a short period can help you return to the office feeling refreshed. It can also promote overall well being. If you’re hesitating to use the PTO you have in the bank, consider viewing vacations as a key part of a healthy lifestyle. The benefits of annual vacations can be on par with regular exercise and a balanced diet. 

What Counts As A Vacation?

Vacation doesn’t have to come in the form of a month-long retreat in order to offer health benefits. Whether you only have a long weekend to spare or have saved up enough vacation days to take a week off, it’s possible to see the positive impact of taking a break. Research supports this conclusion. 

In one study, ideal vacation length was examined in a pool of participants taking long vacations, averaging 23 days. Participants self-reported health and well-being metrics at different points throughout their trips, including perceived health, fatigue, satisfaction, energy level, tension, and mood.

These metrics gradually increased at the onset of the vacation and peaked on the eighth day. This research suggests that eight days is an ideal vacation length, but that benefits can be seen in shorter vacations as well. 

Another study found that vacations were associated with beneficial behavioral changes, including increased sleep duration and reductions in sedentary time. Certain benefits were found to occur regardless of vacation length. The researchers from both of these studies suggested that vacation frequency may be more important than individual vacation duration. If you’re able to schedule two to three short vacations throughout the year, you might experience more benefits than if you took only one long vacation.

The Physiological Benefits of Taking a Vacation

Research on vacations is not limited to optimal vacation duration, or the potential importance of vacation frequency. There has also been significant research into the physical health benefits of regularly taking time off. The positive physiological effects of taking vacations that have been studied include:

Promotes Heart Health

Studies have consistently found an association between taking vacations and improvements in heart health. For example, one study found that the occurrence of heart attacks and death from coronary incidents was nearly eight times as likely in female participants who rarely vacationed (defined as taking one or fewer vacations in a six year period) compared to those who took two vacations a year. Research has also found that men who don’t vacation have a 30% greater chance of suffering a heart attack.

Increased HRV

There has also been research on the relationship between taking vacations and heart rate variability or HRV. Higher HRV values indicate that the two branches of your nervous system are balanced, and that your body is responsive to inputs and ready to perform. Research on vacationing individuals has found that HRV increased during a 6-day resort stay, and that improvements in HRV were seen in 7-day vacations coupled with regular exercise. Even a brief vacation can have a positive impact on HRV and the body’s fitness. 

Reduces Health Risks

Taking breaks isn’t just important for cardiovascular health. Vacations have also been associated with benefits to overall wellness. Vacations have also been associated with benefits to overall wellness and are linked to a reduced incidence of a variety of health risks that contribute to mortality.

The Mental Benefits of Taking a Vacation

Research on the benefits of taking a vacation is not limited to its impact on physical health. There has also been continued interest in how time off can positively influence mental health. Here are some of the benefits of vacations for the mind:

Reduced Stress

It’s no surprise that one of the top mental health benefits of taking a vacation is stress reduction. Studies have found that individuals who take frequent vacations are less likely to deal with high levels of stress and symptoms of depression, and are more likely to experience positive emotions. 

Improved Mental Wellbeing

There is also a link between taking regular vacations and maintaining a more positive mental outlook as a whole. One study of Canadian adults found a positive relationship between taking more PTO and measures of general wellbeing and life satisfaction. Contributing factors to this relationship included feeling satisfied with work-life balance and self-reported mental health symptoms. These findings indicate that prioritizing vacations and being able to take time off is associated with a healthier work-life balance and feelings of satisfaction with one’s life and overall mental wellness. 

Elevated Productivity

Research has also focused on the potential for vacations to improve certain measures of employee wellbeing. Several studies have found that employees who take vacations are more productive at work. In fact, one company found that employees exhibited an 8% increase in annual performance for every 10 hours of vacation time they took. Vacations have also been linked to higher levels of creativity, employee retention, and positive mood in the office. 

Track Your Health with WHOOP

As you incorporate healthy lifestyle strategies into your regular routine, you can use WHOOP to keep track of your health. Whether you’re focusing on maintaining a balanced diet, getting in regular workouts, or making time for a couple annual vacations, WHOOP can help.

You can rely on WHOOP to monitor key health metrics including HRV, sleep, and daily recovery, uncover patterns, and determine how your lifestyle changes are impacting your health and what adjustments can be made to see further improvements. You can also track vacation time in the WHOOP Journal to see directly how taking a vacation impacts your recovery and physiology.