Taking less than three weeks’ holiday a year could result in early death, even if a healthy lifestyle is maintained, a long-running study by the University of Helsinki has found.
The results of research that began in 1974, presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s conference in Munich this week, found that health interventions such as exercise, a good diet and not smoking could not replace the long-term health benefits associated with taking regular time away from work.
The study involved more than 1,000 men with a mean age of 48 at the time the research began. They were chosen because they were at risk of developing heart disease, either due to suffering from high blood pressure, smoking or being overweight.
Half were told to stop smoking, to exercise, to have a “healthy” diet and to keep to a healthy weight, while the rest were given no advice.
Among those who followed the advice were 37% more likely to die young over the next three decades if they took less than three weeks’ holiday a year.
The University of Helsinki research also found that trying to live a healthy lifestyle appeared to make them suffer extra stress, which meant they were more likely to die at a younger age.
Professor Timo Strandberg from the University of Helsinki was reported on Sky News as saying: “The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time.
“In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations.
“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.”
Laura Little, learning and development manager at accountants wellbeing charity CABA, said its own research found a third of employees regularly worked overtime – suggesting a significant proportion of the workforce is in need of a holiday.
She said: “Whilst many may think that they’re doing their employer a favour by missing their time off, they could in fact be doing the opposite. Whilst working hard will help anyone to get ahead, going through your work on autopilot whilst stressed and exhausted – both physically and mentally – isn’t beneficial for anyone.
“Learning to check in with yourself will prevent burnout, and the use of annual leave will enable you to disconnect, re-charge and could also improve your productivity upon your return.”