Taking further than three weeks’ holiday a year could lengthen your life, according to results that give another reason to mourn the end of summer.
Doctors should prescribe time off to people with heart problems to ensure that the stress of trying to live more healthily does not kill them, researchers said.
People who took less than three weeks off work in a year were 37 per cent more likely to die during the course of a 40-year study.
“Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays,” Timo Strandberg, of the University of Helsinki, who led the research, said.
His findings arose out of research that he began in the 1970s on 1,200 businessmen. It produced the puzzling results that men who were given intensive health advice and reduced their risk of heart disease by more than half were more likely to die early.
They had the traditional signs of a healthy heart but died early from a variety of illnesses, leading researchers to conclude that the stress of trying to live more healthily and take more exercise without extended breaks was fatal for them.
The team did not establish an optimal amount of holiday, but said that people should take at least three weeks a year. Professor Strandberg said he took five weeks last year.
He has concluded that the deaths were concentrated in those men who did not take enough time off work. It was logical to think that trying to live more healthily brought its own stress, he added.
“A businessman with a high status goes to the doctor, who says that you must reduce weight and stop smoking. If you can’t do it you get stressed.”
The findings were presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich. Professor Joep Perk, a spokesman for the society, advised: “Don’t forget to enjoy life, you only have one”.
He said that people in their 90s, when asked why they had lived so long, “always the response was ‘I enjoyed life, I had a nice time’. It’s not about chasing risk factors.”
Martin Marshall, vice-chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors “often recommend that patients take time away from work or go on holiday if they are stressed”.
Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation said: “Taking time out can be a great way to relieve tension but you can also talk to friends and family and use your support network to share any troubles. Adopting a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can also help, but its important any changes are sustainable and don’t become another source of stress.”
However, Professor Strandberg said that it his advice might not apply to people who found spending time with their families so wearing that it was more relaxing to stay in the office, warning: “If you get stressed by being on vacation, it’s dangerous.”