“Now here’s a surprise: going on holiday is good for you. Not only do getaways make you feel better, they help you to manage stress, improve sleep patterns, reduce blood pressure, strengthen relationships, live longer… and they can even work wonders for the libido.
We have all experienced some (or all) of the above while taking time out from stressful lives, but now, in something of a first, scientific principles have been used to explore the extent to which holidays really do make us feel better, and why.
The results of the research, a collaboration between the long-haul travel specialist Kuoni, and experts in psychotherapy and health care, were announced this week. And, with more than a third of us currently not using all our holiday entitlement, they contain sobering findings for those who imagine they are too busy (or indispensable) to take a proper break.
The study centred on 12 people of varying ages and backgrounds leading busy lives. Three pairs were sent on two-week holidays – one a tour of the key sights of Thailand, one a volunteering experience with researchers on a ship in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru, and one to flop and drop on an island in the Maldives. The other three pairs remained at home and at work during the same period.
While there were fluctuations in the results, tests carried out by Christine Webber, a psychotherapist, showed that those who went away experienced significant upswings in mood and energy levels and returned feeling more relaxed and clearer in their life goals. The pairs who stayed at home had no such upswings and in some cases demonstrated deteriorations in their emotional and mental states.
There were clear physical changes too. Following tests involving the use of heart monitors and dietary controls, researchers from the Nuffield Health healthcare charity noted that for those who went away blood pressure dropped on average by six per cent, sleep quality improved by 17 per cent and resilience to stress improved by 29 per cent. Those who stayed recorded on average a two per cent increase in blood pressure, a 14 per cent deterioration in sleep quality and a 71 per cent reduction in ability to cope with stress. Despite the tendency to over-indulge while on holiday, those who went away also came back in better shape, with improved “waist-hip ratios”.
It wasn’t all plain sailing. One of those selected to join the Amazonian cruise found it too stifling and experienced a significant increase in stress levels; the two female friends who went to the Maldives had a battle to convince their hosts that theirs was not an amorous relationship (though one of them did discern a rise in libido while away).
There were surprises too. “You do not need to lie on a beach to relax,” said Christine Webber. “In the experiment, the couple which went on the busiest holiday – to Thailand – had the most long-lasting reduction in stress.
“More generally the findings have shown that most people feel happier, more rested and much less stressed because of their vacations. And these benefits can continue for months afterwards. Some of those involved in this project made very real changes to their lives on return.”
Still sceptical? You obviously need a holiday.”