To hear Canadians talk about it, taking a vacation sounds like a pipe dream. In fact, it’s such a rare occurrence that according to the 2016 Vacation Deprivation survey conducted by Expedia.ca, while the average Canadian would like 11.5 more vacation days per year, they consistently leave three unused days of vacation behind.
That may not sound like much when you look around your office, but collectively they represent 31 million unused vacation days across the country and over $5.5-billion in wages that go back to the employer. What’s more, 27 per cent of respondents said they go a year or more without taking a vacation.
It’s a shame to waste vacation days, sure, but there’s more to it than that, according to studies. Taking a vacation has some serious health benefits, both mental and physical.
It reduces the risk of death by heart disease
In a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that among middle-aged men who were at high risk for coronary heart disease, those who went on vacation regularly (once a year) were 21 per cent less likely to die of any cause other than old age, and 32 per cent less likely to die of heart disease.
Similarly, the landmark Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, found that women who went six years between vacations were eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack versus women who vacationed twice a year.
It improves the brain’s neuroplasticity
There are benefits to the brain, too. Adam Galinsky, professor and chair of the management division at Columbia Business School, has conducted a number of studies drawing a link between international travel and creativity. And as creativity is a result of the brain’s neuroplasticity (its ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections), which fires when learning or experiencing new things, it stands to reason that travelling will boost creativity and result in increased job performance.
“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” Galinsky said to The Atlantic.
In his study, that was published in the Academy of Management Journal, Galinsky found that creative directors of high-end fashion houses who lived abroad produced more consistently creative fashion lines as determined by a panel of trade journalists and independent buyers. This was especially true for those who lived in three foreign countries versus none, although the opposite effect was found in those who lived in more than three different countries. (It was thus determined that those creative directors were too transient and did not have enough time to immerse themselves in the local culture, and therefore didn’t reap the benefits of learning something new.)
It improves sleep
A study commissioned by New Zealand Air asked 15 participants flying from the U.S. West Coast to New Zealand on vacation to wear a wrist device that would monitor their quality of sleep starting three days before their vacation until three days after their return. They also kept a sleep diary and were measured for reaction times before, during and after their trip.
Researchers found that after two to three days of vacation, the participants were averaging an hour more of good quality sleep and experienced an 80 per cent improvement in their reaction times.
“When they got home, they were still sleeping close to an hour more, and their reaction time was 30 to 40 per cent higher than it had been before the trip,” study author Mark Rosekind said to The New York Times.
There’s another reason your sleep improves while on holiday (and likely extends well after your return): a new bed helps dissociate from your negative sleep patterns back home.
“The mattress and sheets are different from what you’re used to, so you don’t associate them with staying awake like you might at home,” Robert Oexman, a chiropractor and director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Missouri, said to HuffPost.
It decreases stress
You can file this under “duh” but the fact is stress is linked to a host of illnesses from heart disease, obesity and diabetes to depression, anxiety and accelerated aging.
But a vacation could mitigate all that. In a study out of the University of Calgary, researchers examined nearly 900 lawyers who worked in high-stress firms and found that active and social leisure activities, like playing a sport, visiting friends and taking a vacation were important in reducing depression.