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Can taking vacation prolong your life? Here's what experts say.

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images
Can taking a vacation prolong your life? (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Getty Images)

Taking a vacation is good for you. Studies show it boosts creativity, can improve relationships, makes you a better parent, leads to pay raise and even prolongs your life.

But Americans have a complicated relationship with vacations. One in four Americans working in the private sector don’t get any paid vacation days at all. Among workers who do get paid time off, nearly half don’t use all of their vacation time, according to the Pew Research Center. When workers do take time off, this survey found that more than half of all professionals find themselves working anyway. This can all lead to negative, long-term consequences.

No matter what taking time off looks like for you, here are seven benefits to prioritizing rest and relaxation.

No. 1: Staying home is just as restorative as vacationing abroad — if not more

While it seems everyone is going on a European vacation this summer, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or go anywhere exotic to enjoy the benefits of a vacation. A staycation could work just as well, if not better.

“A staycation is beneficial in many ways and can afford you similar benefits as a vacation,” Carol Simmons, a licensed social worker at Kaiser Permanente, tells Yahoo Life. “In some ways, a staycation may even be more rejuvenating than a vacation because it eliminates the hassle of traveling and is more affordable, removing the financial stress of a typical vacation.”

Marcus Coplin, a naturopathic medical doctor at the Springs Resort in Colorado, tells Yahoo Life that the important thing about a vacation is the quality of your time off, not the location. That means you may get as many positive benefits from taking a staycation in your living room as you would on a whirlwind trip to Europe. He says an important part of time off “is that we are ‘vacating’ our day-to-day life, including its rhythm, routines and patterns of health-deteriorating stressors.”

According to Simmons, “Even just setting aside time to lounge at home, listening to music, reading a book or soaking up the sun in your community can offer substantial mental health benefits.” She believes that staycations should become an important part of everyone’s wellness plan.

No. 2: Taking time off can prolong your life

Taking time off from work not only improves physical and mental well-being, it could also prolong your life. Studies show that vacationing every year is associated with a reduction in overall risk of death by 20% and reduction in heart disease by as much as 30%.

“When your body and brain don’t have a break from constant stress, then there is a relentless strain on important organs,” Dr. Judith Joseph, a psychiatrist at Manhattan Behavioral Medicine and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. This is especially true for those who work over 55 hours a week, she says.

Taking time off can also give you the bandwidth to start new healthy habits, but you’ve got to stick to them when the vacation is over. “The positive effects of vacationing gradually diminish ... in the days and weeks after a vacation,” Dr. Rehan Aziz, a psychiatrist at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. Because of this, “it’s important that people continue to maintain healthy habits upon their return, including diet, exercise, and socialization and take time to recharge as needed,” he says.

A woman smiles with eyes closed near reading glasses, a book and a coffee cup while leaning back into a chair with her hands clasped behind her head.
People who take time off have lower levels of depression and anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. (Getty Images)

No. 3: People who vacation are happier and less stressed out

“There is strong scientific evidence that people who take paid vacation days are happier,” says Aziz.

People who take time off also have lower levels of depression and anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association. And studies show it’s an effective way of reducing stress. “Stressful surroundings increase cortisol, which is a stress hormone that worsens depression and anxiety,” says Joseph.

Another benefit of reducing chronic stress is that it “will improve immune system function” and make you healthier overall, according to Coplin.

Jim Raines, a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente, tells Yahoo Life that the “relaxation and recharge” that come with taking time off “can make us much happier,” even if you stay close to home. Joseph adds: “Using new and fresh eyes to rediscover your hometown may bring on a variety of positive emotions, such as gratitude and satisfaction.”

No. 4: Vacations can improve your overall sleep

One in three adults do not get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deficiency can lead to declining mental health, decreased productivity, injuries and more.

Hotel rooms can check some of the boxes the CDC recommends for a good night's sleep, like heavy curtains that block out light and a cool, temperature-controlled environment. In fact, there is now an uptick in sleep tourism: vacations that are geared specifically to prioritizing sleep. The point of most sleep vacations is to check into a resort and zonk out, reset your circadian rhythm and get to the source of any stress-induced sleep issues. But you don’t even need to go to a resort to have a sleep vacation. Just stay home and prioritize snoozing. “Making sure you have ample and quality sleep will do wonders to counteract the accumulated stressors affecting your health,” says Coplin.

No. 5: Taking time off could actually increase your salary

Taking regular vacations, even short staycations, can help you perform better when you return to the office and may lead to a higher salary, according to The U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off. They found that those who take 11 or more vacation days a year are 30% more likely to get a raise.

“At one time, taking time off seemed counterintuitive. The thought was, those who work all the time tend to ‘get ahead,’ but this has been roundly debunked,” Raines says. Instead, “being able to disengage, regroup and return refreshed brings about more productivity ... looking at a vacation as your mini ‘off-season’ might be the reframe that allows you to not feel guilty, but gifted about the time you truly need to do your job better.”

No. 6: Rest and relaxation can boost creativity in amazing ways

Take a break, unclutter your mind and potentially boost your creativity, according to Harvard Business Review. It worked out that way for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who got the idea for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show Hamilton while on vacation. “The moment my brain got a moment’s rest, Hamilton walked into it,” he told the Huffington Post.

Vacations are “a positive additive to one’s life ... this ability to step away from whatever we are doing allows us to gain perspective and enhance our creativity,” says Raines. Joseph adds: “Being around new surroundings also leads to ideas ... and gives the brain access to inspiration that is novel. These new sights and sounds don’t need to be across the ocean. They can just easily be in your backyard or around the corner.”

Two adults and a child run on a beach away from a parked SUV with the rear hatch open toward a low-flying kite and the sun-strewn horizon.
Vacations can strengthen relationships with spouses, partners, friends and children. (Getty Images)

No. 7: Vacations can strengthen your most important relationships

Vacations can strengthen bonds with friends and family. Whether romantic or platonic, shared experiences and memory-making on vacations brings people closer together, according to Psychology Today.

When it comes to romantic couples, Raines says “research shows that relationships last longer among couples who vacation together and conversely those that do not have a higher divorce rate.” He explains that time together away from the pressures of work may increase the number of positive interactions a couple has. A higher number of positive interactions greatly improves relationships, whether the couple stays at home together or travels.

Joseph stresses that taking time away from work can also help parents be more present with their children and can improve relationships with them too. Being present with children may be easier at home without the demands of work competing for attention.

Bottom line: It might benefit you to heed this bit of advice from the Cleveland Clinic: “Take every minute of vacation you are owed.”