Sun, sand, and sea… what’s not to love about getting away? But now there’s another (science-backed!) reason to submit that time-off request to your boss and finally book that vacay.
Taking a vacation from work may have benefits for your heart health, according to a new study published in the journal Psychology and Health. In fact, researchers found that people who took the most vacation time in the past year had a lower risk of a cardiovascular condition called metabolic syndrome compared with people who took less time off.
"Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” which includes things like heart attack and stroke, explains study author Bryce Hruska, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health at Syracuse University, where the study was performed. “If you have more of them, you are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”
While it’s long been believed that taking time off from work is good for your mental health, this study is the first to reveal vacation’s benefits for your heart. “We are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does,” says Dr. Hruska. Even better? “Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated."
Metabolic Syndrome: What You Should Know
Wondering if you have metabolic syndrome, or risk factors for heart disease? Here are the five key things the National Institutes of Health say raises your risk:
- Having a large waistline. Sometimes this is called having an “apple-shaped” body. If you have extra fat around your middle, it ups your risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure. If you’re BP is elevated, it’s dangerous for your heart and can lead to damaged arteries and plaque buildup.
- A high triglyceride level. If you have high triglycerides, which are a type of fat in your blood, then you’re more likely to develop heart disease.
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because it helps clear buildup from your arteries. If you don’t have enough HDL in your body, your heart disease risk is higher.
- High fasting blood sugar. If you have high blood sugar—a fasting blood sugar level of 100 mg/dL or higher—or you take medication to treat high blood sugar, that's a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. That’s because high blood sugar makes you more likely to get diabetes, which can up your chances of heart disease, too.
If you have three or more of these risk factors, you can be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
The study authors say they’re still figuring out what exactly it is about vacation that impacts these particular risk factors, but there’s no reason you need to wait to find out. If you have available vacation time, you should take advantage of it.
"One of the important takeaways is that vacation time is available to nearly 80% of full-time employees, but fewer than half utilize all the time available to them,” says Dr. Hruska. “Our research suggests that if people use more of this benefit, one that's already available to them, it would translate into a tangible health benefit."
So go ahead—you need a vacation to be your healthiest self! Whether you hop on a plane or stay local, the time away from the responsibilities of work will do your body good. Bon voyage!