The Upside of Downtime: Why it’s Important to Relax

Too busy to get in some downtime and relax? Well, you’re not your most productive when you’re on the verge of a heart attack or stroke, depressed, not sleeping and getting stress headaches. Check out these health benefits of relaxing.

It may prevent heart disease. The landmark Framingham Heart Study – the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease – revealed that men who didn’t take time off for several years were 30% more likely to have heart attacks compared to men who did take time off. And women who took time off only once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who took time off at least twice a year.

It helps lower your risk of a stroke. A University of Cambridge study found that people who coped the best with stressful life events had a 24% lower risk of stroke. This may be due, in part, to the fact that people who handle stress well have other healthy habits like exercising regularly and not smoking. Another study examined the specific effects of work-related stress and found that among middle- and upper-class men, psychological stress caused about 10% of strokes.

It helps prevent you from getting sick. Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has been at the forefront of stress research since the 1990s. He was able to show that chronic stress—lasting more than a month but less than six months—doubled a person’s risk of catching a cold. The reason for this is because stress hampers the body’s ability to recognize and fight inflammation, which can promote the progression and development of disease.

It helps control your appetite. Cortisol, a hormonal by-product of stress, increases your appetite and encourages high-carb junk food cravings. Decompressing keeps your body from producing excess cortisol and helps regulate your desire for food.

It improves your mood and lessens the chance of depression. The University of Pittsburgh’s Mind Body Center surveyed some 1,400 individuals and found that leisure activities contributed to higher positive emotional levels and less depression.

It helps you be more productive. The professional services firm Ernst & Young conducted an internal study of its employees and found that, for each additional 10 hours of vacation time employees took, their year-end performance ratings improved 8%. Frequent vacationers also were significantly less likely to leave the firm. Additionally, research by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working.

It increases your mental power and improves your memory. Working all the time and getting things done might make you think you’re on top of things, but your brain is feeling something completely different. Research by the University of California Irvine’s Gregory Hickok found that our brains don’t have a reserve pool to gather energy and power from. You need to take time to recharge it.

It helps alleviate stress and anxiety. The American Psychological Association found that removing yourself from activities and environments that tend to be sources of stress is not only beneficial but necessary.

Leave a comment