Health

Are You Working Yourself to Death?

Replenish your body and soul with this age-old remedy

Americans throw away an estimated 415 million vacation days every year. That's 1.6 million years of unused vacation! Have we lost our minds? Chronic stress and overcommitment to work have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and mortality. Yep, not taking a vacation will make your RealAge older. Much older.

Whatever your excuse for not taking a break -- your job can't live without you, you can't afford the expense, there simply aren't enough days in the year -- toss them out the window.

The truth is, you're not doing anyone any favors by not taking time off. Not your family. Not your employer. And definitely not yourself. Research suggests that reducing stress and taking regular vacations -- once or twice a year -- may be as vital to your emotional and physical well-being as exercise or a healthful diet. And the benefits don't stop there. Vacations seem to have a positive impact on families and organizations as well.

People who take frequent vacations:

-Are less likely to be depressed, tense or tired

-Have a reduced risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality

-Tend to spend more time with their spouse and children and are more satisfied with their marriages

-Report being more interested and more productive in their work when they return from time off

So change your mindset. Stop thinking of vacation as a luxury you can live without and start thinking of it as a healthy habit. Let's face it: making time off a regular recuperative part of your life is probably the easiest lifestyle change you'll ever make.

Ticket to Health

The number one rule for a rejuvenating vacation? Leave the work and worries behind. And that'll be much easier to accomplish if you turn off -- or leave at home -- your cell phone, BlackBerry, and laptop.

It was once predicted that by the year 2000, Americans would be using mobile phones, working 20-hour weeks, and enjoying more than 3 months of vacation each year. Unfortunately, only one of these predictions has come true.

Technological developments, once expected to precipitate the end of the 5-day workweek, have in fact had the opposite effect. These advancements have blurred the boundary between work life and personal life, making it trickier rather than easier to find the right work/home balance.

Best Bets for a Recuperative Getaway

There's no need to break the bank at a pricey spa retreat to get the health benefits of vacation, but some variables do improve your odds of returning home relaxed and recharged. Use the tips below to help plan a health-enhancing holiday you won't soon forget.

Lucky Number 7

It usually takes people 2 to 3 days to really relax and get into the groove of vacation time. Longer vacations are associated with greater psychological benefits than shorter ones, so try to plan a break that's at least 7 days.

Pack Your Flip-Flops (and Your Sunscreen)

Warm, sunny destinations are the way to go if you're looking for a vacation that'll soothe your soul and lift your spirits, according to a recent study. Just make sure the heat won't be too extreme, and don't forget to wear your sunscreen.

Other factors that promote a sense of well-being on vacation include free time to do as you please (don't try to fit too much into your time off), exercise, lots of rest, and time spent getting to know new people.

Family vs. Fancy-Free

Spending time with family can be a great source of support and can foster a sense of belonging. But family vacations? They can be downright stressful. Nevertheless, if your family lives far away, vacation time may be the only time you get to see them. So if you're planning to spend your break with relatives, make sure you set aside some time for yourself. And consider alternating your vacations between family and frivolity.

Leave the laptop

Fess up. Did you work during your last vacation?

If you think working while on vacation will make your return easier, think again. Compared with people who don't work during their vacations, those who do are more likely to feel overwhelmed when they return to work and are less likely to feel relaxed and energized.

Make your next vacation a work-free zone: Leave the laptop at home.

Indulgences

It's your vacation. Indulge. But try to avoid overindulging in food and alcohol. Excessive drinking and overeating may disrupt your sleep, upset your stomach, and leave you feeling worse for the wear.

So go ahead and enjoy the local cuisine, let your hair down, and have a good time -- but do so in moderation. And try to stay physically active while you're on vacation. You don't have to go to a gym or do a full workout. Take a walk to explore the area, go for a swim, or try your hand at something new and adventurous: windsurfing, rowing, golf, snorkeling, skiing, horseback riding -- the possibilities are endless.

You're the Boss

Most important: Take a vacation that suits your soul. When you're planning your next getaway, you may want to think back to some of the most memorable moments of previous vacations and choose a break with similar elements. Or consider a vacation that brings balance to your life. If you lead a hectic life, maybe a relaxing break would do you good. If you lead a calm life, an active or stimulating vacation might make for a refreshing change of pace.

Whether your ideal vacation involves lounging on a beach, hiking through the hills, or exploring the museums, early-morning markets, and historic sights of a foreign city, just make it happen. Doctor's orders.

This article originally appeared on Sharecare.com, the leading online health and wellness social platform.

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