Won­der­ing whether to fit in a win­ter hol? It’d be good for your blood pres­sure, bad back AND help you sleep bet­ter

Daily Mail - - Good Health - By TANITH CAREY

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.


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