Now that we can jet off almost entirely restriction-free, the statistics show that many of us are taking advantage of this freedom.
Whether you’re spending a week on a sandy Spanish beach or parading the streets of Paris, it’s not just tan lines and Instagram shots that you’re gaining from your time away. Going on holiday offers numerous scientifically-backed benefits for your mental and physical health.
How Does A Holiday Affect My Mental Health?
1) Passive Stress Recovery
Many of us go on holiday to unwind from the daily grind and to recover from the stressors in our everyday lives. If work stress is prolonged and accumulates, then this chronic stress can have implications for our physical health (2). Holidays help us to recover from stress through the absence of work strain. According to the Conservation Of Resources (COR) psychological theory (3), time away from work allows us to restore or build our resources – such as energy, optimism, hardiness, coherence and self-esteem – that are depleted when having to deal with stressors. Upon returning from our holidays, we are equipped with the topped-up resources needed to face the challenges we were so eager to escape.
2) Active Stress Recovery
The Conservation Of Resources theory also suggests that going on holiday allows us to build up new resources through actively engaging in valued and pleasurable activities. These activities may be relaxing, like getting lost in a good book, or personally challenging, such as picking up some of the local language or conquering a summit on a hike. Engaging in activities that we enjoy builds up enduring resources (4) that may be physical, intellectual, social, or emotional. We are then better equipped to break unhealthy habitual thought patterns, leading to new perspectives and fresh ideas on how to solve work-related problems (5). Studies reveal that engaging in positive experiences on holiday decreases the experience of chronic stress, exhaustion, disengagement from work (burnout) and health complaints and improves task performance at work (6).
3) Build Stronger Relationships
Holidays not only provide greater mental clarity when it comes to solving work problems, but they also work wonders for strengthening social bonds. Relationships with a partner, friends, or family benefit from sharing pleasurable and special experiences. Post pandemic, we are more aware than ever of the value of shared memories with fresh horizons. Stronger social bonds indirectly improve well-being and social support is an invaluable and healthy way of coping with stress (7).
How Does A Holiday Affect My Physical Health?
1) Supercharges Immunity
Yes, you read that correctly. The latest research suggests that taking a holiday can actually have a beneficial effect on our immune response and help us fight off infection. Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto and his team of immunologists at the University of Roehampton have conducted tests with mice in enriched environments, replicating a kind of ‘holiday suite’ with extra toys and additional space. His team of researchers found that after two weeks the mice in these environments were better prepared for fighting off infection. They had increased levels of certain white blood cells essential for immunity compared to their non-holidaying counterparts (8). Check out our interview with Dr D’Acquisto for more on how our immune system is impacted by our experiences and feelings.
Travel can even be said to strengthen immunity. When we are somewhere new, mingling with people we don’t know and eating different foods, our bodies are exposed to novel kinds of bacteria. In response, the body will produce antibodies to fight off an increased number of potential illnesses. Remember to pack your Leapfrog IMMUNE to help with any bouts of viral or bacterial infection – noone wants to miss out on any precious days off!
2) Free Vitamin D
The British Isles lack year-round sunshine, so booking a sunny trip abroad certainly helps us soak up plenty of much-needed vitamin D. When we are on holiday, we tend to spend more time outdoors than usual, whether it’s horizontal on a sun-lounger, sightseeing or hiking. The sun helps us to produce the hormone vitamin D which promotes healthy bone growth, muscle development and normal immune system functioning.
3) Improves Heart Health
The INTERHEART study found that being exposed to long-term stress contributes to the risk of suffering a heart attack (9). Holidays can improve heart health by contributing to recovery from stress. Holidays also improve heart health by increasing physical activity. Have you ever checked your step count after a day of sightseeing? You will be pleasantly surprised to find out that even if you don’t plan a super sporty trip away, you’re likely to be more active on holiday. Sure, we might be eating more ice cream than usual, but we also move more – sightseeing, swimming or taking walks. Researchers have found that middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) who took frequent annual holidays were at decreased risk of mortality attributed to heart disease than those who didn’t take a vacation (10).
So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags: a holiday is good for your health. You can thank us via postcard later…
1. Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights – Office for National Statistics. (n.d.). www.ons.gov.uk
2. Geurts, S. A. E., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery as an Explanatory Mechanism in the Relation between Acute Stress Reactions and Chronic Health Impairment. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 32(6), 482–492. https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.1053
3. Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The influence of culture, community, and the nested-self in the stress process: Advancing Conservation of Resources theory. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 50(3), 337–370. https://doi.org/10.1111/1464-0597.00062
4. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology: The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions. The American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.218
5. de Bloom, J., Geurts, S. A. E., Taris, T. W., Sonnentag, S., de Weerth, C., & Kompier, M. A. J. (2010). Effects of vacation from work on health and well-being: Lots of fun, quickly gone. Work and Stress, 24(2), 196–216. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2010.493385
6. Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, Well-Being, and Performance-Related Outcomes: The Role of Workload and Vacation Experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936
7. Lee, C. S., Goldstein, S. E., Dik, B. J., & Rodas, J. M. (2020). Sources of social support and gender in perceived stress and individual adjustment among Latina/o college-attending emerging adults. Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology, 26(1), 134–147. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000279
8. Brod, S., Gobbetti, T., Gittens, B., Ono, M., Perretti, M., & D’Acquisto, F. (2017). The impact of environmental enrichment on the murine inflammatory immune response. JCI insight, 2(7), e90723. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.90723
9. Yusuf, S., Hawken, S., Ôunpuu, S., Dans, T., Avezum, A., Lanas, F., … Lisheng, L. (2004). Effect of potentially modifiable risk factors associated with myocardial infarction in 52 countries (the INTERHEART study): case-control study. The Lancet (British Edition), 364(9438), 937–952. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(04)17018-9
10. Gump, B. B. & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are Vacations Good for Your Health? The 9-Year Mortality Experience After the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62 (5), 608-612. https://doi.org/10.1097/00006842-200009000-00003