Why vacations matter (and why you should schedule yours)

We're not only talking week-with-our-toes-in-the-sand type vacations (though who among us would look a cabana boy in the mouth?), but just the act of stepping out of the workaday routine, even for a staycation. Vacations are vital. According to a study by travel site Expedia, a third of employed Americans don't take their full vacation time. If you're one of the lucky who get paid time off from work, this is as bad as walking away from free money. Summer's ticking by, and if you're still looking for the reasons to justify turning off your Blackberry and packing up a road trip cooler, look no further.

Vacations give your life more meaning.
Americans have a Puritan work ethic we're proud of, but we often overlook the power leisure has to inform our sense of self. Having time to just be can often lead to big conclusions about what we want from life and who we are. A study from the University of Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center found that those who enjoyed leisure time, including vacations, reported more life satisfaction and a more positive mindset in general, including decreased instances of clinical depression.

Lower stress hormones, lower blood pressure, and a smaller waist. Turns out vacations aren't just good for your soul. Results from the Framingham Heart Study are some of the most widely cited evidence of the correlation between vacation and physical health. More than 12,000 men at risk of heart disease were followed for nine years to see if there were ways to increase their lifespan. Scientists who analyzed the results put it pretty simply to NPR: "The more frequent the vacations, the longer the men lived."

You'll sleep better. It's not just those minty chocolates on the hotel pillows or the calm of sleeping under the stars. According to the New York Times, a study by a scientific consulting firm that's worked with NASA pilots and astronauts on sleep issues, showed that after as few as two or three days of vacation, people were averaging an hour more of good quality sleep a night. Even better: back at home, even after your beach hair is long gone, that extra hour of quality sleep endures.

You'll be quicker on the draw. The same study also showed an improvement in reaction times, as much as 80% while on vacation and 30-40% once your bags are unpacked back home. In other words, take off your workplace thinking cap for a few days, and you'll be that much quicker on the draw with ideas and solutions when you return.

Vacations make you more creative. Writers often admit having some of their most productive periods either during or after vacation. Perhaps it's due to the stimulation of stepping outside our normal routines. Sometimes the answer of how to fix the third act of your screenplay or rearrange the living room furniture is just a matter of being exposed to new ideas and situations, and then--eureka in the bathtub!--You've got a brand spanking new solution to your same old problem.

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