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Go on vacation – it could extend your life

Taking vacations can prolong life. That's the finding of a 40-year Finnish study.
The study included 1,222 middle-aged male executives born in 1919 to 1934 and recruited into the Helsinki Businessmen Study in 1974 and 1975. Participants had at least one heart risk factor - diseases (smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, glucose intolerance, obesity).

Participants were randomized to a control group (610 men) or an intervention group (612 men) for five years. The intervention group received oral and written advice every four months to do aerobic exercise, eat a healthy diet, achieve a healthy weight and quit smoking. When health counseling alone was ineffective, men in the intervention group also received drugs recommended at the time to lower blood pressure (beta blockers and diuretics) and lipids (clofibrate and probucol). Men in the control group received usual health care and were not seen by the researchers.

As previously reported, at the end of the study, the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 46% in the intervention group compared to the control group. However, during the 15-year follow-up in 1989, there were more deaths in the intervention group than in the control group.
The researchers found that the death rate in the intervention group was consistently higher than in the control group until 2004. The death rates were in both groups equal between 2004 and 2014.

Shorter vacations were associated with excess deaths in the intervention group. In the intervention group, men who had taken three weeks or less of annual vacation were 37% more likely to die in 1974 to 2004 than those who had lasted more than three weeks. Vacation time did not affect the risk of death in the control group.

The results do not indicate that health education is harmful, but suggest that stress reduction is an essential part of programs aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lifestyle advice should be wisely combined with modern drug therapy to prevent cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals.