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Want to reduce your risk for heart disease or stroke? Take a vacation.

But even though they get paid time off, many Americans will still not use all of their vacation.

The beaches were crowded on Memorial Day Weekend, in Ocean City, Saturday, May 26, 2018.
The beaches were crowded on Memorial Day Weekend, in Ocean City, Saturday, May 26, 2018.Read moreVERNON OGRODNEK / File Photograph

If you want to improve your heart health or decrease your risk of stroke, shut down your work computer, put your office cell phone on mute and take a vacation.

Researchers at Syracuse University found in a small study that people who take a vacation have a lower risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that can result in heart disease, stroke or diabetes, such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar or excess body fat around the waist.

The study, published last week in the journal Psychology & Health, looked at blood samples and vacation behavior of 63 workers. They found as vacation episodes increased, the number of incidence and metabolic syndrome symptoms decreased. The risk for metabolic syndrome decreased by nearly 25 percent every time the worker took an additional vacation.

“We are actually seeing a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease the more vacationing a person does,” said lead author Bryce Hruska, an assistant professor of public health at Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. “Because metabolic symptoms are modifiable, it means they can change or be eliminated.”

A caveat of the study is that it was funded by Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association, which found that in 2017 Americans forfeited 212 million vacation days, the equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits.

But other studies show that work may contribute to health problems, so vacations can only help your health.

The American Heart Association released a report last week that found employees who worked a long day were at higher risk for stroke. Long work days were defined as being on the job more than 10 hours for at least 50 days a year.

French researchers looked at data from more than 160,000 workers and found that 29 percent reported working long hours and 10 percent reported doing so for 10 years or more. The participants that worked long hours had a 29 percent greater risk of stroke. The risk increased to 45 percent for those who worked long hours for 10 years or more.

“The association between 10 years of long work hours and stroke seemed stronger for people under the age of 50,” said study author Alexis Descatha, a doctor at Paris Hospital, Versailles and Angers University and at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. More research is needed, he said.

Even though Americans get paid time off, many will not use all of their vacation days.

In 2018, the consulting firm Kimble Applications called the U.S. a “No Vacation Nation” because 21 percent of workers left at least five vacation days on the table.

About 27 percent of Americans said they had too much work or deadlines to leave, 13 percent feared they will have more work when they come back, and 19 percent felt pressured by management not to take the vacation. Even when Americans take time off, 48 percent check in with work while they are gone, and 29 percent are expected to be available in case of emergencies, Kimble found.