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Bon voyage! Study suggests taking vacations helps boost heart health

Statistics indicate that around a quarter of all adults have a condition known as metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors associated with an elevated risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age, and lifestyle issues like not exercising enough, smoking and carrying extra weight also elevate risk.

Making the right lifestyle changes – including exercising regularly, cutting out refined carbohydrates and sugar, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking – can dramatically reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, and therefore a host of serious health problems.

And a new study conducted by researchers from Syracuse University, led by Professor Bryce Hruska of the Falk College Department of Public Health, has confirmed another really fun way to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome: taking a holiday! (Related: Naturally preventable metabolic syndrome may cause breast cancer.)

Those who vacation the most have the lowest risk

As reported by the U.K.’s Daily Mail, the study confirmed what most of us already know: Nothing beats a good holiday for reducing stress and improving our overall feeling of well-being.

And the link between vacationing and a reduction in metabolic syndrome is clear: The more annual vacations study participants took, the lower their risk was found to be of metabolic syndrome. (Related: Common sleep complaints predict metabolic syndrome.)

“What we found is people who vacation more frequently in the past 12 months have a lowered risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms,” Dr. Hruska explained. “Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have more of them you are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease,” he added. “This is important because we are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does. Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated.”

For their study, the researchers analysed data from 63 workers who were eligible for paid holidays. Blood samples and waist circumference measurements were taken, and metabolic syndrome was diagnosed in participants who exhibited three or more of the following:

  • A waist circumference greater than 35 inches (88cm) in females or 40 inches (101cm) in males;
  • Blood pressure readings greater than 130/85mmHg;
  • Blood triglyceride levels exceeding 150mg/dL;
  • “Good” cholesterol levels lower than 50mg/dL in females or 40mg/dL in males;
  • Fasting blood glucose levels of at least 100mg/dL.

In addition, the participants were interviewed about the vacations they had taken the previous year. On average, the participants had enjoyed five vacations and used two weeks of vacation time over the past year. The findings were clear: Those who took the most holidays had the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome.

Surprisingly, while over 80 percent of American workers are entitled to annual vacation time, fewer than 50 percent actually take time off and go on vacation. The researchers emphasize that simply making use of a benefit that is already available to workers could translate into big health benefits.

If possible, it is better to take several shorter breaks than to only take one long vacation, because the study found that with each individual vacation taken the risk of metabolic syndrome reduced by a hefty 25 percent!

And let’s face it, knowing that a good vacation provides even more health benefits than we already knew about provides yet another incentive to take the break we’ve probably already been dreaming about.

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