John D. Kelly IV, MD, is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. He focuses his blog on helping surgeons reduce stress while achieving balance in their practices and families.

Vacation time is use it or lose it

My wife, Marie, and I just returned from the beautiful island of Maui where we attended Orthopedics Today Hawaii 2014. To say we were refreshed is a gross understatement. Just 7 days away did wonders for my mood and energy level. Needless to say, I regained the closeness to my wife, which was under siege by a recently overly committed schedule.

Sadly, many Americans regard vacation as a luxury. In fact less than 50% of U.S. workers take the full vacation time allotted them. The data linking vacation and wellness is overwhelming. Vacations are good for heart health, reduce waistlines, lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, and enhance immune function so diseases, such as cancer, may be averted. Stress hormones wane, vitamin D levels are replenished with sunshine and moods improve. It should be no surprise that Japanese take the fewest vacation days yet have one of the highest suicide levels.

Health benefits

The famous Framingham Heart Study demonstrated that people lived longer when they took more vacations. Specifically, men who took yearly vacations reduced their overall mortality risk approximately 20%, with the risk of death from heart disease reduced up to 30%.

Immersing oneself in nature has the added benefit of phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants that are good for what ails us. Even a mini-break, like a lunchtime walk around greenery, may confer significant health benefits, including enhanced immune competence

No person is indispensable

Getting away takes courage, but I realize no person (or orthopedic surgeon) is indispensable. Our spouses and children need a certain quantum of dedicated time with us. There is no substitute.

If money seems like a real issue, then recognize the gain in productivity you will realize when you return to work refreshed and “ready for battle.” I have frequently repeated the mantra “happy docs give better care.” Indeed, I am at my best when I return from a respite.

Increased health, boosted productivity and enhanced relationships – vacations confer all these benefits. I encourage you to schedule regular breaks, even if only for a weekend. Rest the nervous system, give the body a “techno free” interval and get to know your spouse again. Plan that vacation now. You will live better and longer.