Going on vacation may be more than just a frivolous pleasure -- it may actually be good for your health, according to a study of men at high risk for heart disease.
"Vacations may not only be enjoyable, but also health promoting," said study co-author Brooks B. Gump, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Gump and co-author Karen A. Matthews, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, analyzed data from a nine-year study of more than 12,000 men at high risk for coronary heart disease. The study participants had filled out questionnaires each year including a question about vacationing in the past 12 months.
Those with regular annual vacations had a lower risk of death during the study period relative to those skipping their vacations, according to Gump and Matthews. Their results held even when the researchers took the study participants’ socioeconomic status (SES) into account.
The researchers report their findings in the September/October issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Gump and Matthews also considered other factors that could have skewed the study results. Poor health could have prevented those study participants most at risk for dying from taking frequent vacations, for example. More affluent participants may have taken more vacations as well as having been in better health. However, even when the researchers accounted for these possibilities their results held: vacations had an independent health-protective effect.
Vacations may protect health by reducing stress -- a known risk factor for many diseases. Vacations were more protective against death from coronary heart disease -- known to be influenced by stress -- than diseases such as cancer, found Gump and Matthews.
Aside from the removal of stress, vacations may work their magic by providing opportunities to engage in restorative behaviors such as interactions with family and friends and exercise, according to Gump and Matthews, who noted that more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism by which vacationing may contribute to good health.
The researchers noted a limitation of their study; based on the data they had to work with, they were not able to determine the quantity or length of annual vacations, nor did they have information about vacation quality.
"Such information might enable a description of the type and pattern of vacationing that have health-protective effects," said Gump.
"Despite such study limitations, these findings suggest the importance of considering the health benefits of restorative behaviors, such as vacationing," Gump concluded
This research was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
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