Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health benefits of weekend trips, vacation, unions

On the fly today, but let me add:

1) This blog quote brings to mind: taking breaks, as weekend trips or longer vacations, have health benefits.
2) France has a better policy than the US has. More people get more vacation --FIVE weeks at minimum-- in France than people do in the US.
3) The French have their strong union movement to thank for these accomplishments.
Now why can't those tea-bag party Joe the Plumber / Glenn Beck following yahoos absorb that message?

The Health Benefits of a Weekend Getaway
Weekly advice from our herbs and alternatives expert

By Sara Altshul
My first cousin Laura asked me and another cousin, Liz, to join her on a weekend mini-vacation. I knew it would be good for me, but now a new study backs me up!
Laura and I share a July birthday, which we’ve never celebrated together. And though Laura, Liz, and I love seeing each other at family events, we’ve never hung out, just the three of us. So we unanimously decided to make some new family history.
Laura was due for some fun: Her mother recently passed away after a 10-year battle with a blood cancer, and Laura dropped everything to tend her while working a demanding job in television sports. Liz, too: She’s a top retail executive and the mother of three boys. Her workday starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m.
Compared to the lives of Laura and Liz, my whole life is a vacation; I don’t commute and I don’t answer to a boss. Still, the stresses of being family breadwinner and a freelance writer are real enough. Plus, I haven’t taken a vacation in years.
So off we went to a lovely resort just outside of Atlantic City, N.J. I admit, I worried a little at first about how relaxing it would be to share a room for two nights (and a bathroom) with two women relatives that I haven’t spent much time with.
I absolutely needn’t have. I was stunned to discover how utterly relaxed I became in the short time between Friday afternoon and Sunday. I’m sure the heavenly massage, facial, and spa manicure I enjoyed, to say nothing of the strolling, shopping, pool-lounging, and divine food, and our brief stint in the resort’s fitness room, and the howling fun we had staying up late on Friday playing pool and air hockey, helped me unwind so quickly. I swear I could literally feel the stress hormones leaving my body.

Study says: Have fun!
Turns out, that’s exactly what was happening to me. According to a study published Thursday in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine,

Blogger's comment: that journal title, I admit, doesn't give me a lot of confidence.
engaging in enjoyable leisure activities can lower stress hormones and blood pressure, make you feel better all over, and reduce your waist circumference and body mass index (although I’m pretty sure the Friday night gala all-you-could-eat seafood buffet probably canceled out those last two benefits).
In the study, 1,400 people reported how often they participated in activities like vacationing, going to clubs, playing sports, or plain old loafing around. Folks who spent the most time doing many different fun activities reaped the most health benefits. Though the study may sound like “duh” research (what I call studies whose results seem painfully obvious), the scientist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who conducted it makes a good point.
“When you’re under stress, the usual thing is to cut back on enjoyable activities because you’re feeling uncomfortable and you need more time to deal with the stress. But these data suggest that’s the wrong thing to do, and that continuing enjoyable activities can be helpful,” says study coauthor Karen Matthews, PhD, a professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and psychology.
That’s all I needed to hear. I’m planning to take a real vacation with my husband, Frank, at the end of August. Not sure where yet, but it will absolutely be someplace that has lots and lots of fun things to do. Suggestions are welcome!

And a wonderful comment from a reader named Sally:
I’m amazed that someone had to study this issue. Of course time off is good for you. Just like breathing is good for you.
In America, the 10 days most people get are spread out over the year, to make for long weekends. It’s a rare treat to actually take a whole week off of work. In France, 5 weeks vacation per year is the minimum. Going away for 2-3 weeks at a time is normal. All that is courtesy of their unions. Why do Americans hate unions?

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