The benefits of holidays on physical and mental health

With family or friends, by the sea or in the mountains, in idleness or sports mode..... When holidays rhyme with the word "relaxation", many benefits for body and mind are felt.

Holidays: a rejuvenating cure for the body

Holiday time is a time to get out of routine, eat better, sleep better and spend time on activities that make us happy, such as sports, sightseeing, discoveries and new experiences, idleness or walks.

Summer holidays are an annual truce about taking better care of yourself. By adopting a more relaxed schedule, the whole body's functioning changes.

Recently, American researchers at Syracuse University have shown that holidays have a beneficial effect on the heart. Thanks to the medical follow-up of executives who took vacations in the last 12 months, the researchers found that those who took more leave had a lower risk of cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or stroke...

Take a break of more than three weeks in the year

This recent study also confirms the results of a Norwegian study that followed volunteers for 5 years. One of the objectives of this study, conducted by researchers in Helsinki, is to measure the effects of holidays on the long-term well-being of 1222 healthy men with at least one risk factor for their heart health (hypertension, smoking, overweight, etc.).

Results? Men who took less than twenty-one days of vacation per year were 37% more likely to die early than those who took more than three weeks of vacation in a year.

In their conclusions, the researchers state that advice for a healthy lifestyle (healthy eating, sports activity, stress management) must be combined with rest periods several times a year to effectively prevent cardiovascular events in people at risk.

Fill up on optimism with vitamin D

Supporting the subway-business-sleep routine or traffic jam-sleep negatively affects morale throughout the year. Holidays are an opportunity to break these habits and do what we like. Thus, going on holiday increases our good mood while soothing us.

In addition to preventing heart disease and promoting bone growth, vitamin D is essential for mental balance. As proof: the brain has vitamin D receptors in the cortex and hippocampus. Several studies point to an association between vitamin D and cognitive performance, but further investigation is needed to better understand its role in brain function.

This is crucial information when we know that, according to the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), more than half of the French population lacks vitamin D with a blood concentration of less than 20 nanograms per ml, whereas a blood concentration between 30 and 45 ng/ml is required.

Although it is found in fatty fish, egg yolk and offal, it is mainly synthesized by our bodies when we are exposed to the sun.

The question is how to ensure that these health benefits of the holidays last as long as possible after the start of the school year!
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Health advice from a specialist before you go on a trip.

For the French, summer holidays are undoubtedly one of the most awaited moments of the year. According to Europ Assistance's 2019 holiday barometer, 69% of them intend to go on holiday this summer! If they have many health benefits, certain precautions must be taken. Air travel, jet lag and adaptation to a new environment require health considerations to be taken into account. As such, Daniel Boulanger, Medical Director of Europ Assistance, gives his recommendations to make the most of his holidays.

Travel health: the right reflexes to adopt before leaving!

For a trip to Marseille or Bangkok, the preparations are not the same. If the choice is to be made for a distant destination, in Asia or Africa for example, the traveller is invited to visit the official government website (such as Ariane or Conseils aux Voyageurs) to check the degree of dangerousness of the destination country and thus avoid sensitive areas. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, it is also advisable to check on specialized sites (such as the Institut Pasteur site or the Centre de Vaccinations Internationales) the vaccines and treatments required or mandatory to enter certain countries (malaria, yellow fever, etc.).

When preparing luggage, even if it is obvious that summer clothes should occupy a special place, the care kit should not be neglected. From sun protection, to venom pumps and mosquito repellent, anticipation is the key to a hassle-free trip because in some countries, you may encounter some difficulties in obtaining medicines. Also, if you are being treated for a chronic illness, remember this and take enough to cover the entire trip.

In all cases, it is advisable to include in your travel kit:

  •  an anti-diarrheal,
  •  a painkiller, such as paracetamol,
  •  disinfectant,
  •  burn cream,
  •  an eye drops,
  •  antihistamine,
  •  local anti-inflammatory,
  •  antispasmodic,
  •  antiemetic (against motion sickness),
  •  your usual oral contraceptive, condoms.

Depending on the destination, it is recommended to add:

  •  an antimalarial drug,
  •  mosquito repellent (maximum 35% DEET),
  •  water disinfectant (e. g. hydroclonazone),
  •  single-use syringes.

Finally, and often forgotten, administrative documents (health booklet, European health insurance card, prescriptions for your usual treatments) remain precious allies to avoid many disappointments for the care or their management.

Health coverage abroad: a prerequisite for a peaceful departure

94% of French people say they are covered by an insurance policy when they go on holiday. This is an important precaution to cover yourself against unforeseen circumstances: trip cancellation, loss of luggage, illness or medical repatriation... In addition, in some jurisdictions such as the United States, the amount of medical expenses can increase very quickly! Thus, to choose the optimal medical coverage, it is necessary to take into account its destination and sometimes subscribe to additional coverages.

A good travel insurance and travel assistance (often in the same contract) allow you to travel in peace!
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Healthy gestures that make a difference during the journey

In the air as well as on the road, some good practices are to be observed. While driving breaks are an automatic feature for many motorists, they are not always popular with air travellers. During a long-haul flight, getting up regularly and stretching every two hours reduces the risk of phlebitis... it is also advisable to wear compression stockings during the trip, especially for people with venous insufficiency.

In addition, travellers should ensure that they are well hydrated, as the air on board is dry, and avoid alcoholic beverages, such as excess food in the air, and for good reason, these are often factors in vagal discomfort.

The most vulnerable people (young children, the elderly and pregnant women) must be given extra attention when travelling. More fragile, their metabolism adapts less easily to changes.

Parents of babies who cannot sit down (less than 10/12 kg) will be able to request a cradle upstream from the airline. Finally, pregnant women should avoid long travel times and destinations that are too far away and poorly equipped to prefer neighbouring destinations. On the one hand, because transport can be dangerous for the unborn child, but also to be able to benefit from appropriate medical follow-up in the event of problems. Many of the concerns inherent in pregnancy can be avoided.

Note: flight crews are trained in first aid and airlines have permanent access to a medical regulatory centre in the event of an emergency.

During a stay abroad, adaptation is essential

Holidays are often synonymous with letting go. Even if travellers are enthusiastic about discovering local food, they should avoid consuming too much of it, and above all, give their bodies time to adapt to local flavours.

When travelling, melatonin can be effective in fighting the consequences of jet lag by stimulating sleep.

Another point of vigilance is that when travelling, trauma emergencies represent 43% of requests for assistance (accidents on the public road or related to leisure activities, femoral neck fractures for the elderly, etc.).

Infectious diseases, such as dengue fever and malaria, account for 8% of requests. Childhood illnesses are also at the origin of many assistance cases (chicken pox, fever,...). Travel conditions can exacerbate existing health problems such as cardiovascular disease (7% of claims) or neurological accidents (6.5% of claims).

For some destinations, vigilance does not stop at the border

On return, if noticeable symptoms appear (fevers, diarrhoea, etc.), the traveller should immediately consult his doctor and indicate the last countries visited. For so-called "at-risk" countries, medical monitoring is essential.

The approach to be adopted depends on the trip undertaken and the profile of the traveller (distance, transport, physical condition, destination, etc.). Holidaymakers must take precautions adapted to their situation and devote time to preparing their trip. In conclusion, to travel in good health, you must leave well prepared!

Holidays, rest: what impact on health?

The health benefits of leave are many. However, they remain very dependent on working conditions.

Is a holiday healthy? The answer seems to be obvious. The preservation of health was one of the objectives of the introduction of paid leave in 1936. A few long-term studies, such as those on the large cohort of the Framingham population, followed since 1948, show an increased risk of cardiovascular accidents among people who take little leave. "But these studies also indicate that people who go on regular holidays tend to have a healthier overall lifestyle," says Finnish researcher Jessica de Bloom. And those who leave are not really representative of the general population: in France, only 40% of low-income households, but 68% of the upper middle classes and 86% of high incomes went on holiday (i.e. spent more than four consecutive days away from home) in 2014, according to a Crédoc survey. And 40% of the French have not left at all. This leads to a bias in comparison between those who leave and those who do not.

"Some chronic diseases such as eczema, allergies and asthma, diminish or disappear during the holidays," says Professor Yves Roquelaure, occupational physician (CHU Angers). But is it due only to the effect of holidays, or also to the cessation of occupational exposure to triggering factors?

Antidepressants ignored....

It is perhaps the relationship between mental health, well-being and holidays that is most obvious. According to the Crédoc survey, 74% of people who consider themselves generally happy have gone on holiday during the year, compared to only 38% of those who have not left. Holidays reduce the risk of depression, according to several studies. One of them, conducted in Sweden in 2013, showed a decline in antidepressant sales with the increase in the number of employees on holiday in July. But here again, biases are possible, such as summer sunshine, which increases the production of an antidepressant neurotransmitter, serotonin.

To reduce these biases, several researchers such as Jessica de Bloom assessed the condition of subjects just before, during and just after the holidays. As a result, they effectively reduce accumulated fatigue, health complaints and improve the sense of well-being. But this effect remains moderate and disappears within two to four weeks of returning to work...

A necessary weekly break

Finally, there is more data on the effect of long daily or weekly working hours on health than on rest. "The higher the physical workload, the more metabolic syndromes, diabetes, hypertension are seen. Some old studies have also shown, particularly in the steel industry, that beyond 40 hours per week work has an impact on health. Hence the need for a weekly break," explains Professor Roquelaure. "It is more difficult to assess the optimal duration of annual leave, because situations are very different from one country to another. Thus, Americans take little more than fifteen days of annual leave but much more often take long weekends." However, some groups remain exposed to excessive working hours, such as hospital medical interns. Recently, this has been very theoretically limited to 48 hours a week in France... and 80 hours in the United States!

Preserving time for leisure

Beyond working hours, it is increasingly its intensity that has an impact on health. "In France, the transition to 35 hours has been accompanied by an intensification, increased productivity, with a workload that often exceeds what is feasible in 35 hours," analyses Professor Jean-François Gehanno, occupational physician (Rouen University Hospital). "Many studies show that excessive workload, stress are cardiovascular risk factors." Thus, stress at work increases both the risk of heart attack and abdominal obesity. According to a Finnish study, reducing unfavourable working conditions (workload, stress, shift work, etc.) would reduce the risk of heart attacks by 10% and stroke deaths by 18%.

"This intensification of work also increases the risk of depression and burn-out," the doctor says. To preserve mental health, cuts and rest periods are essential in order to be able to drop out physically and psychologically. Their modalities may vary from one continent to another, from one culture to another. In Europe, the month of annual leave is the rule. But for Professor Roquelaure, "to see work as nothing more than a constraint would be simplistic, even dangerous. Work is also a resource that allows us to build ourselves. The more interesting, rewarding and learning a job is, the more protective it is. It is therefore the balance between working time and leisure time that must be preserved".

It's proven: taking a vacation is good for life expectancy

While the start of the school year is underway for a majority of French people, while others are preparing to enjoy a few days of rest, researchers point out that holidays are one of the good habits to adopt as part of a quality lifestyle to effectively relieve stress, one of the most important factors in cardiovascular disease.

Eat a balanced diet, move for at least 30 minutes every day, limit stress and avoid smoking... all good habits that can extend your life expectancy. Researchers at the University of Helsinki also stress the importance of one last element, surely the easiest to follow: going on holiday. Their 40-year study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, states that taking a few days to relax really helps to promote your well-being over the long term. "Don't think that having a healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking a vacation," says Professor Timo Strandberg.

He points out their benefits: "Holidays can be a good way to relieve stress. "The study included 1,222 middle-aged men born between 1919 and 1934 and recruited between 1974 and 1975. All participants had at least one cardiovascular risk factor (smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, overweight) at recruitment and were then assigned to a control or intervention group for five years. Those in the second group received advice every four months on regular physical activity, healthy eating, achieving a healthy weight and quitting smoking.

Too much work, not enough holidays: a dangerous association

When health advice alone was not effective, they also received medication to lower blood pressure and lipids. The men in the first group, the control group, received usual health care and were not managed by the researchers. After five years of studies, analyses showed that the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 46% in the intervention group compared to the control group. The researchers then implemented another mortality follow-up in 1989 and again in 2014 and found that the rates were essentially the same for participants in both groups from 2004 to 2014.

They then turned their attention to other risk factors for poorer health, such as the amount of work, sleep and vacation for each participant in the intervention group. The scientists then found that men who took three weeks or less of annual leave were 37% more likely to die prematurely than those who took more than three weeks of leave spread over a year. "The damage caused by the intensive living regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men whose annual vacations were shorter. They worked more and slept less than those who took longer holidays. "adds the researcher.

A healthy lifestyle as a whole against stress

Scientists believe that an overly stressful lifestyle may have offset the long-term benefits of their intervention. However, they point out that stress management was not part of preventive medicine in the 1970s, but is now recommended for people with or at risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, more effective drugs are now available to reduce lipids and blood pressure. "Our results suggest that stress reduction is an essential part of programs to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. ", says Professor Strandberg.

In their conclusions, the researchers state that healthy lifestyle advice should be combined with drug treatment if necessary but also with rest periods several times a year to effectively prevent cardiovascular events in people at risk. It is also important to know how long it is recommended to go on vacation to get back to work in top shape. Another team of Finnish researchers has been studying the issue and their work published this year estimates that for the body and brain to relax optimally, the ideal duration would be between 8 and 11 days at least.

365 days without holidays: this is the impact on your health

Holidays are a change in physical and mental activity. It maintains another relationship with life, another state of mind. We take this opportunity to get back into sports or stop drinking 6 coffees a day. Also, depriving the body of this life-saving break can be harmful.
Atlantico: By not taking a vacation, we would be depriving ourselves of an "annual cleaning" and a happy disconnection for our body. What are the physical impacts of this lack of disconnection? Isn't it in the end a quasi-obligated saving passage?

François Baumann: Holidays are a privileged moment of "rejuvenation", both physical and mental. It is a kind of cleansing of both the brain saturated with information and responsibilities, and the body, which can regain a new vitality through changes in diets and activities.

In the absence of this "on holiday" passage - let us remember that "holiday ideas are linked to the vacancy of ideas" and that the absence of both psychological and physical breaks is harmful; the body - of which the brain is a part - needs these changes to reformat itself, to find new energy and new momentum. It can only do so in the diversified movement and action of holidays, even if they are not "sporting". This healthy passage is essential in our stressful world. Without it, the "machine" will overheat and risk implosion as seen in the burn-out. But at the other extreme, the boring or boring at work, just as destructive, will be mitigated by the diversity of activities offered, in general, by holidays. By being strictly from the point of view of people's health, "holidays" are therefore essential, and it is indeed a necessary saving passage. This is the great summer cleaning essential to regain energy for the year!

You are a burn-out specialist. What are the psychological risks we take when we do not stop working?

You take psychological risks when you don't stop working. There is a risk of burn-out, or suffering at work, due to stress and overwork. Even if you don't feel it immediately, stress wears you down and in the long run can make you seriously ill, and not just psychologically. It is the main enemy against which we must fight, because with burn-out, it is the incapacity of any activity that lies in wait and for a much longer duration than the usual holidays. Not taking a holiday when you have worked all year is therefore a major risk for the psyche. It also reduces alertness at work and through induced fatigue, the risk of physical disorders and nervous breakdown. The physical, like the moral, needs to be resourced.

How long do we keep the benefits of an active holiday? Is it ultimately a good deal for the company to see its employees go on holiday?

If the holidays are "successful", it is for several months that the effects of the change of activity will be felt, especially since we will continue by returning home from sports or activities that we started on holiday: jogging, swimming, gym, etc....

Having employees in excellent physical and mental fitness is therefore in the company's obvious interest. It is a new and efficient energy that is being reformed in this way, with, no doubt, better "stressed out" relationships between individuals. An energy that can last all year round if both sides take care of its maintenance. It is therefore a good business for the company (and for the employees), to promote sports and/or intellectual holidays, under reasonable conditions for the proper functioning of the work.
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  • de Bloom, J., Radstaak, M., & Geurts, S. (2014). Vacation Effects on Behaviour, Cognition and Emotions of Compulsive and Non-compulsive Workers: Do Obsessive Workers Go ‘Cold Turkey’? Stress and Health, 30 (3), 232-243 DOI: 10.1002/smi.2600
  • de Bloom, J., Ritter, S., Kühnel, J., Reinders, J., & Geurts, S. (2014). Vacation from work: A ‘ticket to creativity’? Tourism Management, 44, 164-171 DOI: 10.1016/j.tourman.2014.03.013
  • Hilbrecht, M., & Smale, B. (2016). The contribution of paid vacation time to wellbeing among employed Canadians Leisure/Loisir, 40 (1), 31-54 DOI: 10.1080/14927713.2016.1144964
  • Nawijn, J., De Bloom, J., & Geurts, S. (2013). Pre-Vacation Time: Blessing or Burden? Leisure Sciences, 35 (1), 33-44 DOI: 10.1080/01490400.2013.739875
  • Rosenkilde, M. (2016). Vacation weight gain — Is it really that bad? Physiology & Behavior, 158 DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.02.030