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Holidays are good for you. Yes, it's true!

Holidays, it turns out, are good for your health.

In fact, 92% of HBF Healthy Family Holidays survey participants felt that taking regular family holidays was important to their family’s health, while 52% felt it was very important.

Scientific research supports these statistics, with better heart health, mental wellbeing and connected relationships being the positive outcomes from taking a vacation.

Chronic and heart health

Dr Neda Meshgin, General Practitioner and Practice Principal, shared, “Chronic health conditions are on the rise and we’re finding the age of patients presenting with chronic conditions getting younger and younger, with 25-50 year olds increasingly at risk of diabetes and heart disease.”

Dr Meshgin went on to cite a 2000 study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, and advised, “Men who didn’t take an annual vacation had a 20% higher risk of death and about a 30% greater risk of death from heart disease. Women who failed to take holidays also suffered similar negative heart-health implications.”

Improved mental health for mum and dad

Taking regular holidays left 30% of the HBF Healthy Family Holidays survey participants reporting that they felt more rested, relaxed and de-stressed. Prof. Jennie Hudson, Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University, says, “Some theories suggest holidays contribute to overall life satisfaction. One theory is that holidays allow us to have more control over our daily activities. Perceived control is an important predictor of mental health.”

Holidays are good for you

Holidays can also positively impact mental health by opening families up to new experiences, as reported by 12% of survey participants. “Experiencing new things can lead to new learning, and this can increase mastery and resourcefulness,” says Prof. Hudson. “Long-term or chronic stress can have a negative impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing. Holidays can provide an opportunity to experience a break from chronic work or routine stress too.”

According to Dr Meshgin, “Perhaps the most significant health issue impacting 25-50 year olds remains mental health problems, often during what should be their most productive work years, as well as when they are parenting.” Positively, Dr Meshgin said, “In my practice experience, it isn’t uncommon for families who vacation together to see an improvement in their mental health, which in turn can improve other health parameters as well as increasing motivation to reset lifestyle goals and regain energy.”

Better relationships

The survey results showed that a third of participants reported a benefit from the bonding time experienced while on holiday. Combined with feeling more relaxed, it is easy to see how holidays can help build better family connections.

Prof. Hudson explains, “If during the holiday the parent is more engaged with their child, listens to them more and talks to them about their new experiences, then this is likely to have positive benefits. Experiencing positive events and emotions together is also likely to lead to a more positive mood and a stronger relationship.”

Social and emotional development for children

Stress isn’t just an adult affliction. According to Dr Cathie Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Australian Catholic University, “The rapid pace of family life means that children are functioning at higher levels of stress and arousal from earlier ages.”

With the fast pace of modern living and ever-growing reliance on electronic devices, children are also suffering from a lack of rich conversation. Dr Harrison explains, “Children can use the language of direction and instruction, but they don’t have the capacity for rich conversation, wide vocabulary and expressive language. Australian Early Development Census data also indicates increased vulnerability regarding social and emotional development and lack of resilience in children.”

Holidays are healthy

Quality time on holiday, when we go slower and put the devices down, is also a great opportunity for building a stronger family connection. Dr Harrison explains, “Children long for adult presence and connection – to be seen and to be heard, to have time to learn how to work toward the challenge of climbing a tree, riding a bike, learning to swim. Playing games together, like board games and hide and seek are both simple and profound opportunities for parents and children to learn together – valuable lessons in being more empathetic, learning to wait, to share, to delight in another’s success.”

Author, Parenting Educator and Resilience Specialist, Maggie Dent, recommends a digital detox as a way to help foster connection between parents and children. “It has become a bit of an expectation that people will continue to check their emails and be available on their mobiles when on their break. Being able to switch off is important for parents and kids.”

Short or long breaks?

While the thought of a long break can be tempting, you don’t necessarily need to spend two weeks away to experience the health benefits of a family holiday. Eleven per cent of survey participants said their best family holiday involved no more than three nights away.

Dent says, “Families are struggling with busyness, and the ever-growing demands of our consumerist, fast-paced society can make it a challenge for people to take time off together and completely switch off from work.”

According to Dent, “Family holidays can reduce stress and support children to have happy childhoods, but it’s best to ensure they aren’t overly ambitious, as this can also cause enormous stress.”

If keeping holidays shorter means you can keep the holiday manageable, the takeaway is you should go for it. Depending on your circumstances it might be more beneficial than a longer family getaway.

Read the full HBF Healthy Family Holidays Report.

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