Dying for a Vacation? Scientists Discover Skipping Holidays Can Shorten Your Life

Not taking enough vacation time could raise a person's risk of dying, research suggests. The study was based on data on Finnish businessmen collected over four decades and suggested going on vacation cuts the risk of dying by 37 percent.

Dr. Timo Strandberg, professor at the Department of Medicine at the University of Helsinki and co-author of the paper, told Newsweek, "If you know someone who doesn't take vacations and works long hours, he or she may be at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology, and will soon be published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.

Taking a vacation has been linked to a longer lifespan in a 40-year study on Finnish businessmen. Getty Images

To conduct the study, researchers assessed information from the Helsinki Businessmen Study on 1,222 men born between 1919 to 1934 who went on to become company executives. The participants were recruited in 1974 and 1975, and had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as being overweight, keeping a smoking habit, or having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance or elevated triglycerides.

Of the total participants, 612 were given health advice every four months. Tips included keeping up physical activity, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking. The men were also given drugs to lower blood pressure and lipids when deemed necessary. The other men acted as the control group and received no treatment or advice.

Between 1974 to 2004, men in the intervention group who took three weeks or less of annual leave each year had a 37 percent higher risk of dying when compared with those who took more than three weeks. But in the control group the risk of dying remained the same.

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"Shorter vacations and longer working hours are associated with harmful health effects, even mortality. Cause and effect cannot be established, however, and controlled trials are difficult to perform," Strandberg said.

As well as investigating the potential effects of variables like going on vacation, sleeping and working on participants' mortality rate, the researchers were surprised to find those who were offered advice had higher death rates when they were followed up in 2014. The scientists aren't sure why.

Addressing the cardiovascular problems among the intervention group, Strandberg told Newsweek: "We had a hypothesis that stress induced by intensive personal health education and intervention (telling executives to stop smoking, reduce weight, exercise etc.) would be involved, but proving this is difficult because stress was not specifically measured during trial.

"My theory is that if you cause stress for vulnerable individuals by attempts of lifestyle modification but simultaneously don't get sufficient effect on risk factors, harm could ensue," he surmised.

"In general, I think that lifestyle modification should be primarily done with societal procedures; smoking bans, taxation on harmful dietary items such as salt, sugar, saturated fat, energy dense, forcing people to move with their own muscles and making it possible in the environment, etc.," he said.

The take-home message, Strandberg told Newsweek, is if you like vacationing to keep doing it. It probably does you good.