Stock image of woman in a hammock overlooking a beach.

Use your vacation days to relax, recharge and increase your physical and mental health. benik.at/Shutterstock

Americans are forfeiting their vacation days, despite the stress, anxiety and other negative effects of not taking time off from work. In fact, a report by Project: Time Off, shows U.S. employees took about 16 vacation days in 2013, down from about 20 in 2000. Apart from depriving yourself the chance to enhance your productivity and work performance, avoiding taking a break can lead to stress overload and other potentially damaging effects on your health, experts say.

After all, vacations offers the chance to relax and restore overall well-being. But simply taking a hiatus from your demanding workday schedule isn't enough. Traveling somewhere new can enable you to immerse yourself in new surroundings, boost your brain power and fully recharge. With this in mind, here are five reasons why traveling is smart for the mind, body and soul and expert tips for making the most out of your vacation days to rejuvenate and ensure a stress-free getaway.

You'll Recharge Emotionally and Increase Empathy

According to Wallace J. Nichols, author of "Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do" vacationing – especially near the water – can help us reset our emotions and actually increase compassion. "Often associated with feelings of awe and wonder, water can boost our empathy and compassion, our connection to ourselves and those we are with, and for many — from musicians like Pharrell Williams to neurologists like Oliver Sacks – it's a steady source of creativity and insight," he says.

You'll Get Back in Shape

While some may not describe vacations as an opportunity to escalate their fitness routines, travelers may be more active than sitting in an office chair all day. Tourists may walk as much as ten miles a day while sightseeing in Europe or visiting Disney World. Travelers may also be more inclined to try new activities while in a new place, like paddleboarding or hiking. There are also fitness-centric resorts that encourage guests to get fit and try new workouts to boost physical and mental health away from home.

You'll Engage in New Surroundings and Eliminate Stress

Traveling has many advantages, with stress relief topping the list, according to Dr. Margaret J. King, the director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, a think tank focused on the ideas, products and ideas that drive consumer decisions. 'There are lots of psychological benefits from change of venue from home and work to 'third places' devoted to just experiencing the environment. With a short list of activities each day, freed up from the complexities of ongoing projects and relationships, the mind can reset, as does the body, with stress relief the main outcome. Humans thrive on novelty, and travel offers the complete package with new faces, sounds and sights," she says.

You'll Wind Down and Rest Up

Little sleep  mixed with high stress can lead to irritability and negative consequences on your cognitive performance and efficiency. Max Hirshkowitz, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation says a vacation is a great opportunity to catch up on sleep. To feel more energized, the NSF recommends at least seven hours of sleep per night for adults. "Reserve that time," he says. "Make it an important thing you need."

You'll Boost Your Mood

Many studies suggest that travel can improve our emotional state. A 2014 survey conducted by Diamond Resorts International found over three-quarters of respondents reported feeling happier when they planned a trip at least once a year. Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a certified physician and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, isn't surprised by the findings. "It's hard to sit on a beautiful beach somewhere and ruminate about paperwork or deadlines. That is why over three-quarters of respondents to the Diamond Resorts International survey reported feeling happier when they regularly vacationed. Periodic and regular vacations while taking time for yourself and your family lowers your stress level and decreases the release of all those stress hormones that contribute to degrading our mental and physical health," she says. Plus, studies show reminiscing about pleasant vacation memories may trigger happiness long after your trip. 

Tags: travel, health


Julie Loffredi is an award-winning journalist and correspondent. She writes about travel tips for a variety of publications and is a contributor at travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip. You can follow her on Twitter @julieloffredi or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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