Memorial Day, the unofficial gateway into summer, has come and gone. Already, many people are soaking in pools or digging out their beach blankets. Soon, the kids will be off school, making it the perfect time to head to grandma’s house, or that idyllic lakeside retreat.
The benefits of vacation for both body and mind are many, and we’ve written about them in the past. Aside from getting enough exercise, eating right, and not smoking, taking time to relax and unwind may be the most important thing you can do for your health. Even when money is tight, it’s still possible to reap the benefits of some well-needed vacation time. Just take a walk in the park, spend some time sitting by a river or stream, or set up a hammock in the backyard.
At a time when both chronic stress-related health problems, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and the heath care costs associated with treating them, are on the rise, it’s a sad irony Americans’ vacation time is actually decreasing.
Americans receive fewer vacation days — an average of 13 per year — than people in most other countries with similar economies. Japan is close behind, with an average of 15 days, followed by Australia and Canada, tied at 19 days each. Workers in the United Kingdom get an average of 26 vacation days, while France tops the charts with an unbelievable 38 days.
To make matters worse, many of us don’t even use all of the vacation days we’re entitled to. The average American ends the working year with three unused vacation days, more than the workers of any other country, except Japan, who leave seven of their 15 days unused, on average.
Considering the fact that workplaces are often on the hook for much of their employees’ health insurance premiums, it’s surprising that allowing for more vacation time hasn’t become a more prominent part of the push to lower the cost of healthcare. Office weight loss support groups, free smoking cessation classes, health coaching, counseling services, and on-site gyms are all becoming more common, while vacation time continues to decline.
Though few of us have much control over the benefits our employers offer, you can take a positive step for your health by at least making sure to use up the vacation time you’re given. Even if it feels like you’re too busy to get away, taking time off can be the best thing, not only for your health but also for your productivity, creativity, and general attitude.
What do you think? Could more vacation time become the public health issue of our era? Will public service announcements about vacations soon replace ads encouraging people to say no to drugs or quit smoking? How can we get American employers to see the benefits of a healthier, better rested workforce?
Share your ideas below!