Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

Vacations and Health

How likely, on average, do you take the full vacation time allotted to you by your organization in a year?

Never

Seldom

Sometimes

Often

Always

If you answered never, seldom or sometimes you might want to reconsider. Researcher Karen Matthews from the University of Pittsburgh studied 12,338 men for nine years as part of a large coronary heart disease study called MRFIT (Gump, B. & Matthews, K. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612). She found that taking annual vacations by middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease was associated with a significant reduction in all-cause mortality and more specifically death due to heart disease. Her study provides some interesting research in support of the argument that vacations might actually be good for your health, particularly if you work long hours, have a heavy workload and tend to “burn the midnight oil.”

Work Hours and Health

How many hours, on average, a week to you work?

  1. Less than 7
  2. 7 to 8
  3. 9 to 11
  4. More than 11

If you regularly work very long hours, you may want to reconsider. A study by Mika Kiivimaki and colleagues at University College London suggests that people who put in 11 hours or more of work on a daily basis may increase their risk for coronary heart disease (Kivimaki, M. et al. (2011). Using Additional Information on Working Hours to Predict Coronary Heart Disease: A Cohort Study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 154, 457-463).

Traditional calculations of the likelihood of heart disease are based on genetic and lifestyle factors including age, sex, exercise, blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking. However, factors like daily work hours are not usually considered.

University College London researchers assessed data on more than 7,000 civil service workers first studied in 1991-1992 (Whitehall II study) who showed no signs of any heart disease. The same group was studied every 5 years until 2004. Researchers found that adding information about work habits actually improved predictions of heart disease. Those who reported working 11 hours a day or more had a 1.67-fold increased risk compared to those who said they work only 7 or 8 hours per week.

Coffee/Tea Consumption and Health

If you are going to work long hours, then at least drink a lot of coffee and tea. Researchers found that moderate consumption of either drink can reduce your chance of death from a heart attack by at least a fifth (but not stroke or any other diseases) in a recent study of of 37,514 people followed for 13 years (Gans, J. et al. (2010). Tea and Coffee Consumption and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.109.201939).

They found that tea had the biggest impact on heart disease but that all but heavy consumption of coffee was also beneficial:

  • Those who drank between 3-6 cups of tea were 45 percent less likely to have CHD problems
  • Those had drank more than 6 cups had a 36 percent lower risk

Given that moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages (no more than 2 drinks daily for males and 1 drink a day for females) is also associated with cardiovascular protection there is no word on what happens long term if you work long hours, drink a lot of coffee and spike a few cups of it with your favorite distilled spirit…..Be well…