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Travel Well: Take Time Off in 2010

Take note vacation dodgers-there's a boatload (cruise ship, of course) of healthful reasons why you need to take your vacation time.

Joan Westlake

Healthkey.com contributor

January 6, 2010

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While Americans may roll their eyes at the nearly month-long "holidays" common to Europeans, the facts are that vacations offer vital benefits. Half the workers in the United States don't take the annual 12 days they've earned and nearly 40 percent never take more than a week at a time. Americans take even less vacation than the Japanese, the people who gave rise to karoshi-the phenomenon of being worked to death.

Take note vacation dodgers-there's a boatload (cruise ship, of course) of healthful reasons why you need to take your vacation time. And if you don't "get it" perhaps your employer will. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, tracks employees who have not taken enough vacation, sending reminders to them and their supervisors that they should do so.

Need more convincing? Here are some reasons to convince your company and yourself that you need to go to time out.

Increase Creativity

Lile Jia and colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington demonstrated that increasing psychological distance to a problem increases creativity. One group was told the problem was in Greece, the other in Indiana. The "Greek" students provided more creative responses and performed better on a problem-solving task that required creative insight. So, although you may want to "get away from it all," sitting on that beach in Mexico may be the ideal place to find a solution to that office dilemma you've been unable to solve.

Establish Self Worth

Taking the vacation time you've earned demonstrates to your company and yourself that you are worthy. It is a declaration of your importance. Not taking the time off devalues you because you are essentially working for free during the weeks you could be on vacation.

Be Happy

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh's Mind-Body Center surveyed 1,399 participants who'd been recruited for four other studies on breast cancer, cardiovascular disease and other conditions. They were asked how often they'd spent the previous month doing something they enjoyed. Leisure, including vacation, contributed to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression.

Be Healthy

The Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center study also revealed that those who engaged in multiple leisure activities had lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and smaller waists - all indicators of overall health.

Live Longer

The Framingham Heart Study, which for nearly a decade has been following 12,000 men who were at risk of heart disease, indicates that the men who took more frequent vacations lived longer than those who didn't. The Framington Women's Heart Study revealed that females who take the least amount of vacations are at a 50 percent higher risk for a heart attack.

Prevent Burnout

Taking meaningful vacations lets you escape current situations, think about your life and unwind from every day stressors. Job stress costs American business $344 billion a year in medical bills, absenteeism, turnover and training.

Enhance Relationships

This can be the time to bond with children and re-establish your love life. Be certain your plans encourage interactions. You'll be more likely to engage your child in meaningful conversation strolling along the beach than standing for hours in line waiting for a roller coaster ride.

Expand Education

Explore your world. Learn about America. Interacting with different cultures can increase your understanding of others and your own life.

Pump Up Productivity

There's more than anecdotal evidence that vacation time nets better employee performance. Professor Dan Aronson of Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey points out that when the Cincinnati firm Jancoa increased its vacation time to three weeks, productivity went up so much it was able to eliminate overtime. Staff turnover dropped from 360 percent to 60 percent in two months, while sales increased 15 percent. And, after the H Group, a financial services company in Oregon, increased vacation time for its employees, its revenues doubled.