Why longer holidays can add years to your life



Back in 1974 and 1975, the Businessmen Study recruited middle-age male executives born between 1919 and 1934.

All participants had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease including smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, glucose intolerance and being overweight. But the participants were also asked to record whether and when they were going on vacations. Half were given instructions to exercise, eat healthily, achieve a healthy weight and stop smoking, while the others were given no extra advice.

If these things weren't effective to lower the men's cardiovascular disease risk, they were also prescribed blood pressure medication.

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Men in the control group received usual healthcare and were not seen by the investigators.

But a second analysis - completed roughly 15 years later - unexpectedly revealed that more people in the advice group had actually ended up dying (by 1990) than in the non-advice group.

Among the same group, those who took less than three weeks off each year were 37% more likely to die young over the next 30 years.

"The men who had shorter vacations - which means less than three weeks annually - had higher mortality than those who had longer vacations", he said.

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Researchers from Helsinki University in Finland tracked 1,200 businessmen for 30 years and found those who took less than three weeks off a year were 37 per cent more likely to die young.

Shorter vacations were associated with excess deaths in the intervention group.

The good Professor adds: "This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention".

"We think the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on these men by adding stress to their lives", Strandberg adds.

Professor Strandberg also noted that stress management was not part of preventive medicine in the 1970s but is now recommended for individuals with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease.

Lead researcher Professor Timo Strandberg, from Helsinki University, said Global Positioning System should prescribe holidays to those who had fallen into unhealthy habits, rather than heap guilt on patients who had fallen into bad habits.

Why? Strandberg said that while the investigation didn't track the men's stress levels, "stress, with multiple effects in the human body, would be a good candidate" to explain why those who didn't take much vacation had worse outcomes overall.

The study has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging with the abstract now available online.

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