The next time you plan a vacation, take a moment to acknowledge that you’re doing something healthy. No one is equating a trip to Maui with eating a plate of steamed broccoli, but it turns out that taking a vacation isn’t just about getting a break from work or school, or getting in some time with the kids. There may be real health benefits to getting away from it all.

De-stress

One of the obvious benefits of a vacation is stress relief: The American Psychological Association‘s (APA) 2018 Work and Well-Being survey found that vacationing improves mood and reduces stress.

“Because by taking time to decompress from the stress of everyday working life and all the responsibilities that come with it, you decrease the level of stress hormones like cortisol and enhance the restorative capacity of your body to heal and has been proven to help decrease depression,” says Lise Janelle, founder of Toronto’s Centre for Heart Living.

Matters of the Heart

Physical health and general life satisfaction may also be improved with time off. Vacations have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, increase energy and motivation, and reduce blood pressure, according to the American Psychosomatic Society. The increased positivity resulting from improvements to mental health may help with creativity and decision-making skills.

“Taking a vacation is one of the best ways to regenerate and restore your body,” says Dr. Clementine Affana, a physician and travel blogger at Travel With Clem. “Sleep and rest help to strengthen your neuronal connections, reduce the workload of your body and improve your mood.” If you’re curious about whether vacations can improve your marriage, the Wisconsin Rural Women’s Health Study found that “the odds of marital satisfaction decreased as the frequency of vacations decreased.”

So, consider getting out of town when you have the chance.

Get Away

It’s important to note that the benefits of taking a vacation may depend on two factors: time taken and your ability to separate yourself from work-related activities. The mere act of planning your vacation might have emotional health benefits weeks before you leave, but most of the measurable benefits typically start to kick in after two to three days off, so consider a long weekend if you can’t take a week.

“To get the most benefit from time off, including stress reduction that lasts 30 days or more, go away from home and work and exercise outside,” says Dr. John La Puma, an internist and best-selling author.

Disconnecting completely from your work routine may be more beneficial than getting a couple work items accomplished during your time off: Effects were found to be significantly reduced in vacation goers who continued to work or concern themselves with work-related issues, and those effects disappeared even more quickly once the vacation was over.

Participants in the APA study reported that their productivity and work quality showed improvement after taking time off. “You need to lower the volume in your head and shed the voices that judge and criticize you for playing and not working,” says Fran Walfish, a family and relationship psychotherapist in Beverly Hills.

Take Your Time

However, you shouldn’t “expect the vacation to ‘heal everything’ in life,” says Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in California. Manly advises creating “reasonable expectations about what you can get from the vacation time.”

Remember, according to the experts, the only real definition of a vacation is something that takes you away from your daily routine and its stresses. If getting far away is too much commitment financially or logistically, try taking a week off work to just go to the park, spend time with family and catch that movie you’ve been meaning to see; there are plenty of options for inexpensive activities. Try to make your vacation a real escape from your everyday worries to maximize the health benefits — no matter how far from home you actually go.

Fun and Easy Vacation Ideas

Hop on Board a Cruise

Choosing a cruise can make for a cost-effective way to experience great locations and potentially luxurious amenities. There are plenty of money-saving tips to help you make the most of a cruise vacation.

Hit the Road (Trip)

Take the long and winding road to explore the wilds of the country and stave off sadness.

Take a Week Off

Taking just one week of vacation can offer immediate relief from stress and improve well-being.

Go Camping

Breathe in that fresh, clean air and take in the views from the top of a mountain! Take a hike in the great outdoors — it’s good for your heart, lungs and peace of mind.

Stay in for a Staycation

Being at home is beneficial, and inexpensive! Turn on your away-from-office reminder and reduce stress with a home gardening project.

Relax at a Health Spa

Getting good sleep and exercise during vacation encourages recuperation and reduces exhaustion. Why not throw in some meditation and mud masks and really make it count?

Visit a Big City

Getting out of your usual environment can cut stress even more than staying nearby. Try a few nights in a fancy hotel in a big city — you might find some last-minute deals and live the tourist high life.

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