Five reasons why you need to take a vacation — or else

A recent survey found that most Americans do not use an average of nine vacation days per year. While there may be many reasons for this (for example, worries about leaving work, missing income and other financial concerns), not taking a vacation from work has some rather serious consequences. Here are five well established reasons why taking time off from work is less of a luxury and more of a healthy necessity:

People who take more vacations live longer.

It is hard to argue with this reason, which emerged from the well-known Framingham Heart Study, which followed thousands of men over many years. While there are likely many reasons for this finding (like people who are healthier are more inclined to want to vacation), the correlation seems to be a solid one. Vacations, time off from work and leisure activities all provide a respite from the ambient stress that comes along with the work day. Vacationing every year can reduce the risk of death by almost 20 percent.

Vacations can improve work productivity.

Returning from work after a period of time can provide a different perspective, which can often be energizing and inspiring. Some authors suggest that, like the processing that goes on when one is sleeping, time away from focusing on work allows for problem solving and creative ideas to emerge. And in terms of productivity, if you do not take time off, you are more likely to get sick and be out of work.

Vacations can buffer depression.

Not only does time away from work improve mood in the short term; there is evidence to suggest that vacations can help improve depression and stave it off. A study of women in rural Wisconsin found that women who did not vacation on a regular basis were three times more likely to have depression.

Vacations in natural surroundings positively affect health.

Many of us who work indoors often feel the drag of being without natural light or fresh air most of the day. Vacations that involve natural surroundings actually have a significant impact on our immune system. The natural emissions of plants, trees and other organic elements (such as essential oils from wood called phytoncides) reduce the concentrations of stress hormones in the body, reduce blood pressure and increase the health effects of “natural killer” cells in the body. Some of this work comes from studies in Japan of Shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing” vacations) where the immunologic benefits of such trips appear to last for at least 30 days.

Vacations promote self-care and nurturing.

Unlike many aspects of our lives, vacations are an opportunity to be — like the very root of the word — “free from duty.” Whether this means using the time to relax, for stimulation and adventure, or time to practice the ukulele, it is our time to be self-indulgent. Many people have a hard time caring for themselves and conflate self-care with selfishness. It is important and necessary to take care of ourselves. Vacation can be a time to attend to our needs that receive less attention in day to day life. We deserve it.