YES — YOU REALLY DO NEED A HOLIDAY!
Wondering whether to fit in a winter hol? It’d be good for your blood pressure, bad back AND help you sleep better
Most of us look forward to holidays as a break from our routines and a chance to relax. Even so, last year more than a third of British workers didn’t take their full entitlement of holiday — which including Bank Holidays is at least 28 days — due to heavy workloads, schedule clashes and anxiety about taking time off, a recent YouGov poll found.
But holidays are important for health — while most of us recognise the post-break surge in mood and energy levels, research shows that holidays offer clear physical benefits, too.
Indeed, Dr Martin scurr, Good Health’s GP columnist, says it’s vital to plan regular holidays to punctuate the ongoing pressure in today’s highly stressed workplaces.
He says: ‘Knowing there is a horizon — that impending holiday — makes it feel like the pressure is limited. Immediately booking the next holiday on your return works to maintain health and prevent the damage caused by stress.’
so, in a reversal of the usual warnings about the risks of travel, here we look at the health benefits of a good break.
Getting away cuts heart attack risk
ONE of the key beneficiaries of a holiday can be heart health.
When private health insurance company nuffield tested holidaymakers on their return, they found their blood pressure had fallen on average by 6 per cent, while their sleep quality had improved by 17 per cent. Breaks have also been found to be good for the long-term health of the heart.
A 20-year analysis of 750 women for the Framingham Heart study — a long-term study of more than 5,000 people in Framingham, Massachusetts — found that those who only took a holiday every six years were at a 50 per cent higher risk of a heart attack than those who took two a year.
Another study, by the University of Pittsburgh, of more than 12,000 men aged 35 to 57 at high risk of heart disease, suggested that those who took five breaks a year were 40 per cent less likely to die of coronary heart disease than those who took none, reported the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
In fact, the benefits of holidays are so well recognised that people with long-term health conditions are allowed to put some of the NHS budget for their care towards a break — as long as it is approved by a doctor.
Although the scheme proved controversial after patients were reported to have used money on pedalo rides and summer houses, an NHS England spokesman told Good Health: ‘An independent evaluation has shown they work and are cost effective.’
Healing power of the beach
A BEACH holiday can bring a range of special health benefits.
skin needs the sun to make vitamin D — this helps to boost the immune system and arms t cells, which find and destroy invading bacteria and viruses.
‘If you have almost any chronic inflammatory disease — whether it’s an auto-immune disease such as Ms, an allergic disease such as asthma or an infectious disease like TB — having normal vitamin D levels will improve your prognosis,’ says Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial college London.
Basking in the holiday sun also lowers blood pressure, according to researchers from southampton and Edinburgh universities.
In one experiment, 24 healthy people sat under a sun lamp for 20 minutes. their blood pressure readings dropped ‘significantly’ and remained low for at least 30 minutes, reported the Journal of Investigative Dermatology last year. It is thought the UV rays trigger the release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels.
However, a christmas- time skiing holiday won’t do the trick, according to oliver Gillie, of the Health Research Forum.
‘We don’t get enough vitamin D by simply exposing our face and hands,’ he says.
‘Also, the sun is at a lower angle in the winter and sunlight has further to travel through the atmosphere. so winter sun in the northern Hemisphere does not make vitamin D in skin — even if you wear a swimsuit.’
You’ll come back better nourished
As MANY of us head for coastal resorts, we often eat more oily fish on holiday, says Helen Bond of the British Dietetic Association.
‘In this country, we are only eating around a third of our recommended serving of 140g of oily fish — such as mackerel and sardines — a week, and therefore miss out on omega-3 fatty acids that may help prevent heart disease.’
UV light clears up skin complaints
A DOSE of sun can help heal skin complaints.
A 1991 study by the University of Manchester and the Department of child Health found that the sunnier the holiday, the more eczema improves. In seven out of ten cases, youngsters with the skin condition who holidayed in the Mediterranean showed ‘a considerable improvement’.
sun can also be good for psoriasis — an inflammatory skin condition caused by the overproduction of skin cells, causing itchy plaques of scaly skin. A small amount of UV radiation helps to dry the skin, making it flake off and allowing healing to take place.
In 2011, a study in the British Journal of Dermatology found significant improvement in 20 psoriasis patients who holidayed in the canary Islands and spain. Dr susannah Baron, a dermatologist at Kent and canterbury Hospital, says: ‘one of the treatments for eczema and psoriasis is UVB light therapy.
‘In psoriasis, UVB penetrates the skin and slows the growth of affected cells. In eczema, it appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect and seems to increase the bacteriafighting systems in the skin.
‘I have patients who plan their holidays in sunny places accordingly. However, it doesn’t work for everyone — and those with pale, freckly skin have to be careful because of the skin cancer risk.’
Why sea air makes us sleep well
A STUDY carried out for the national trust found that people sleep an average of 47 minutes longer after a seaside walk. those who did an inland walk only slept for an extra 12 minutes.
Experts have suggested this may be because sea air is full of negative hydrogen ions, charged particles abundant in sea spray and concentrated in fresh air, which improve our ability to absorb oxygen.
More oxygen can boost levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, making us less prone to anxiety.
However, Professor Jim Horne of Loughborough University’s sleep Research centre says simply being exposed to a new environment on holiday will help you sleep better.
‘We’ve studied people who go out sightseeing and it definitely does increase your depth of sleep. there’s more brain work involved, therefore the brain needs more recovery which means you sleep better and longer.
‘Any novel experience, such as a holiday, takes your mind off what you’re worrying about. People with insomnia tend to sleep better away from home.’
Warm weather eases back pain
GOING on holiday often eases back pain, according to physiotherapist tim Allardyce.
‘I frequently recommend that patients take a holiday at least twice a year somewhere warm.
‘Warm muscles tend to be more relaxed, so muscle tightness and spasm can reduce when you go somewhere hot. on holiday, people also tend to do fewer things that aggravate their backs, such as sitting at a desk for long periods.
‘And we often exercise more on holiday, going for longer walks and swimming regularly, which can be helpful for arthritis sufferers.’
Mini-breaks may be even better for you
NEARLY half of us now prefer several mini-breaks throughout the year to one big trip, according to a survey of 3,000 people by hotel chain Hampton by Hilton.
In fact, these getaways may be better for us — research has found that the positive effects of any holiday last a fortnight.
In 2009, Dutch researchers analysed seven studies on the effects holidays have on wellbeing. they found that within two weeks of a break, travellers felt as tired as they had before they left. And the holiday length made no difference to the length of the afterglow.
Dr Dawn Harper, a GP and presenter of TV show Embarrassing Bodies, says that for this reason it may be healthier to take lots of short breaks. ‘When we take mini-breaks, there’s less stress around the cost of the holiday, and we also don’t come back to crazy in-trays,’ she says.