Medical benefits of holidays revealed for the first time
The positive impact of holidays on health has been measured in a ground-breaking study published this week.
The Holiday Health Experiment was conducted by tour operator Kuoni and Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity between summer and autumn 2012, revealing how holidays may help us live longer. The results are published today in The Holiday Health Report.
The study, the first of its kind, set out to establish whether the much-discussed ‘feel good factor’ generated by vacations is based on physical and psychological fact.
Participants were divided into a travel group and a non-travel group and all had stress-resilience testing and a 360+ Health Assessment by Nuffield Health. This was carried out alongside psychotherapeutic tests conducted by psychotherapist Christine Webber.
The Holiday Health Experiment found that those who took part benefited from lower blood pressure, improved sleep quality and improved stress management – with the effects continuing for at least two weeks after returning home.
Highlights of the findings: –
- The average blood pressure of the holidaymakers dropped by a beneficial six per cent while the average of the non-holidaymakers went up over the same period by two per cent.
(Avoiding high blood pressure is important to avert risk of stroke and heart attacks).
- The sleep quality of the holidaymakers improved while that of the non-holidaymakers deteriorated. Holidaymakers saw a 17 per cent improvement while the average for non-holidaymakers reduced by 14 per cent.
(Quality of sleep is important for the body to physically and mentally repair).
- The ability to recover from stress (known as the stress-resilience test) saw an average improvement of 29 per cent among holidaymakers. This compared to a 71 per cent fall in stress resilience scores among the non-holidaymakers.
(The higher the stress resilience score the better the body is recovering from stress efficiently).
Dr Lucy Goundry Nuffield Health, Medical Director, Wellbeing said: “For the first time, our clinical results show how holidays helped these couples reduce their blood pressure, improve their sleep and manage their stress levels better.
“These results clearly demonstrate that on holiday our resilience to stress (our ability to physically cope with stress) improves. Becoming more resilient to stress is hugely important as most of us will return back to stress when our holiday ends but being more resilient to it helps lay the foundations for improved productivity at work, better energy levels and ultimately happiness.
”As many as a third of workers do not take their full holiday entitlement each year – I urge everyone to ensure they plan their holidays carefully, working hard is important but so is taking time to rest and recuperate.”
The Holiday Health Experiment also found: –
- Decreases in blood glucose levels, reducing risk of diabetes
- Improved body shape (losing weight around their middles) which may lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Improved energy levels and mood
The 12 participants in the experiment were divided into two groups.
Both groups underwent a 360+ health assessment, wore heart monitors to measure their sleep patterns and resilience to stress, had psychotherapeutic tests and were given dietary and lifestyle advice in summer 2012.
Six participants in one group were then sent on a holiday for two weeks to Thailand, Peru or the Maldives. The other six people stayed at home and continued working.
In September 2012, all participants underwent a second array of clinical and psychological tests and wore heart monitors for 72 hours.
Psychotherapist Christine Webber said: “The Holiday Health Experiment has shown me more clearly than ever before just how much our mental health can improve when we get away on holiday. It’s apparent from our results that the majority of people feel happier, more rested and much less stressed because of their vacations. But, even more importantly, I have discovered that these benefits continue well past the vacation – in fact, for months afterwards.
“I have seen some of our participants make real changes to their everyday lives as a result of their holidays. I have noticed how couples grow closer together. I have witnessed how going somewhere exotic and different can not only alter people’s perspectives on the world, but can also help to increase levels of confidence and happiness in their own individual lives. I have also noted with interest that you don’t need to lie on a beach to relax. In the experiment, the couple who went on the busiest holiday had the most long-lasting reduction in stress.
“All in all, I think the Holiday Health Experiment has shown us that there are quantifiable health benefits to taking breaks away – and that we may just have scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the long-term benefits of holidays may be.”
Derek Jones, Kuoni managing director said: “This study backs up with evidence the long-held belief that holidays are good for our health. I hope people will acknowledge not only a boost to their productivity, but to their longevity from taking full annual leave, preferably peppered throughout the year. Saying you’re too busy to take your full entitlement could be counterproductive. Regular holidays can be counted as preventive medicine.”