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Taking longer holidays could prolong life, according to a new study.
The 40-year University of Helsinki study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, included 1,222 middle-aged male executives born in 1919 to 1934 who had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
They were divided into a control group and an intervention group who were given advice on healthy eating, stopping smoking and exercise. They also had blood pressure drugs if needed.
The risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 46% in the intervention group compared to the control group by the end of the trial. However, at the 15-year follow-up in 1989 there had been more deaths in the intervention group than in the control group. So the study was extended and took into account the amount of work, sleep and holiday the men experienced. The researchers found that the death rate was consistently higher in the intervention group compared to the control group until 2004. Death rates were the same in both groups between 2004 and 2014.
Looking at the figures more closely, they found shorter holidays were associated with excess deaths in the intervention group. In the intervention group, men who took three weeks or less annual holiday had a 37% greater chance of dying in 1974 to 2004 than those who took more than three weeks. Holiday time had no impact on risk of death in the control group.
Lead researcher Professor Timo Strandberg said: “The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time. In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations. This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention. We think the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on these men by adding stress to their lives.”
Professor Strandberg noted that stress management was not part of preventive medicine in the 1970s, but is now recommended for individuals with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease.
He concluded: “Our results do not indicate that health education is harmful. Rather, they suggest that stress reduction is an essential part of programmes aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle advice should be wisely combined with modern drug treatment to prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals.”