Why time off so good for your health

Why don’t Americans take time off — especially those fortunate enough to have paid vacation?

2019 study by the U.S. Travel Association found that a record 768 million vacation days went unused in the previous year, with 55 percent of workers reporting they didn’t take all the paid time off their job offered.

In 2018, the average American earned 23.9 days of paid time off, but took only 17.4 days, according to the data. The total value of forfeited vacation days was estimated at $65.5 billion — money that workers, in effect, donated to their employers.

The gap between earned time off and actual time off reflects a culture of overwork in the United States, says Charlotte Fritz, PhD, an associate professor in industrial and organizational psychology at Portland State University in Oregon. Her research focuses on the interplay between experiences at and outside of work.

“What we find is high levels of workload, time pressure, and expectations to be available 24/7,” Dr. Fritz says. “That makes it difficult to mentally detach during nonwork time.”

Charlotte Fritz, PhD

Compound that with the fact that the United States is the only country with an advanced economy and no federal paid-vacation policy. An estimated one in four workers have neither paid vacations nor paid holidays, according to a 2019 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The always-working, no-time-off paradigm is a problem, because working longer hours, or never feeling like you’re actually away from work, can be detrimental to your mental and physical health.

study conducted by the World Health Organization and published in the journal Environmental International in May 2021 found that worldwide, long working hours were linked to about 745,000 deaths in a year from stroke and ischemic heart disease — a 29 percent increase since 2000 in deaths linked to overwork.

For more information, visit the Everyday Health Website.

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