Leisure sickness: why you should not relax on holiday

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From The Times of London

My suitcase is on the bed, I’ve printed the boarding passes and even remembered the travel plug. I may be burdened by a year’s aggregate of fatigue and stress, but that’s OK, I am finally heading off on my summer holiday. It’s really not the moment to spot a report that says, badly handled, my two weeks in Greece might be the death of me.

According to a study by Liverpool University, if you’re middle-aged, and even if you’re reasonably active day to day, a “holiday” doing nothing may be ill-advised. The study conducted by Dan Cuthbertson, an honorary consultant at the university’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, examined the effects of two weeks’ relaxation on 45 healthy men and women with previously good metabolic health. They had all been used to walking an average 10,000 steps a day or more, but for the study were asked to limit their steps to less than 2,000 a day and to sit for up to three and a half hours a day longer than usual.

Overall, while younger participants recovered reasonably quickly, the inactivity in older people led to a slowing of their metabolism. Also, blood sugar and “bad” cholesterol levels increased while insulin sensitivity decreased. These are contributory factors to type 2 diabetes. What’s more, muscle mass diminished and fat deposits increased, especially around the abdomen, a contributory factor to heart disease.

“The public health message is certainly not ‘don’t go on holiday’,” says Cuthbertson. “But it’s that, especially for the older demographic, as you get older there is a constellation of physiological reasons that make it harder to win your health and fitness back.”

. . . .

“No one’s saying holiday has to become a boot camp,” says Cuthbertson. “In fact exercise should feel good physically and mentally. Go for a daily swim and see if you can add a couple of lengths each day.” The doctor, who is no slouch himself — he has run 20 marathons and 200 half-marathons — follows his own orders. “On holiday in Scotland recently I did a park run, which is a really good public health initiative.”

Inactivity on holiday is not the only holiday health pitfall. Scientists and researchers now believe that the sudden decompression that holidaymakers go through when they switch from work to holiday mode can play havoc with their wellbeing. Ever got your keys to the villa, opened the shutters and admired the pool only to retire to bed feeling ill? You may have succumbed to a phenomenon that Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of clinical psychology from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, has called “leisure sickness”. Its symptoms include headache, insomnia, depression and anxiety, or flu-like symptoms.

. . . .

“The statistics suggest it’s growing,” she says. “Highly stressed people or workaholics tend to suffer holiday burn-out most. They’re at optimum stress completing tasks before the holiday and then they may suffer an immune-system crash. But the surprising thing is the group we call ‘inactives’ who enjoy a lot of unconditional leisure time on a day-to-day basis, they suffer leisure sickness too. Too much freedom is not good.”

Link to the rest at The Times of London

At this point in his life, PG has a number of grandchildren who are often involved in the vacations he and Mrs. PG take from time to time. The grandchildren are the perfect antidote to the problems of too much inactivity and relaxation during vacation. Casa PG and its many keyboards are sometimes a welcome respite from vacations.

Here is approximately 3 seconds from a recent visit from PG offspring.

You might not be too impressed by this young man’s diving skills, but it does qualify as a new yardstick for activity. PG will call it an Offspring Activity Event (OAE).

Onlookers are anything but relaxed. For one thing, it is desirable for this type of OAE to end with the offspring coming back to the surface of the water. Generally, one or more adult vacationers are observing to make certain this happens within a reasonable period of time.

PG purposely chose a record of one of the simpler OAE’s during a vacation. If you modify this OAE slightly to have it end with Offspring 1 landing on Offspring 2 who is already in the pool, you’ll be looking at a multi-OAE situation which will helpfully prevent adults from remaining completely relaxed to the detriment of their health per the OP.

A bit of simple math demonstrates why visits with Offspring are not appropriately grouped with problems triggered by too much inactivity and relaxation. We will set aside multi-OAE to simplify calculations.

If you start with your basic 3-second OAE, you’ll see this turns into 1,200 OAE’s per hour. Now, each OAE is not a disaster, but nearby adults tend to subconsciously monitor nearby OAE’s as a fundamental part of their disaster preparedness regime. You don’t want an OAE involving a screwdriver and a younger sibling’s eye to catch you napping.

Taking the 1,200 OAE’s per hour further, indisputable mathematics says there will be 28,800 OAE’s per day and 201,600 events per week.

Now, persnickety doubters might claim that sleeping children do not generate 1,200 OAE’s per hour. This may be true in a strict sense, but that takes us into the realm of OAE severity ratings.

Without getting into complex equations, we will simply observe that Offspring Activity Events that occur in the middle of the night tend to be more severe than daylight OAE’s. Offspring Vomiting in bed at 1:00 AM will certainly protect adults from experiencing too much vacation relaxation more than subconscious observation of Offspring Activity during the day at a swimming pool.

The mathematics underlying the science of Offspring Activity Events becomes exponentially more complex if you assume there is more than one Offspring engaging in activities simultaneously. Five Offspring will generate over one million OAE’s during a week with a huge increase in multi-intersectional OAE events.

And, of course, for a small number of adults, conscientious OAE monitoring of more than one Offspring at a time is the best protection because it reduces any possibility of relaxation during a vacation to a bare minimum.

This discussion will not delve into the increased burden of Offspring Justice Determinations layered on top of basic OAE observational and management tasks when one Offspring’s OAE improperly interferes with another Offspring’s peaceful exercise of OAE autonomy resulting in a multi-OAE morass. Simply identifying each individual OAE in such a situation is difficult enough without tossing severity calculations into the mix.

Suffice to say, multi-OAE situations are probably the best defense against leisure sickness while on vacation.


17 thoughts on “Leisure sickness: why you should not relax on holiday”

  1. One has to break away for a while, the risk is good for you. 😉

    And there are stats claiming that spring jump of daylight savings time is bad for older tickers …

  2. I would like to know what sort of vacation involves a lot of sitting around? I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation and didn’t have somewhere to go/something to do/a mountain to climb almost every day.

    I WANT that ‘sit on your butt’ vacation please!

    • Sitting/reclining vacations?

      1- Cruises. The ships have lots of activity options but you don’t have to use them. Just find a lounger, lay down, get out your ebook reading device.

      2- Same thing, but on a beach.

      3- Same thing, in the back yard. (Cheaper, too.)

      A lot of vacations involve sight seeing…with long stays in air conditioned buses going to and fro. With plenty of reading time.

      Not everybody considers white water rafting a vacation.

  3. “Too much freedom is not good.”

    And the doctor completely botches the problem in a way that tells me I never want to be her patient nor to listen to her politics. Although, given that she is Dutch, perhaps it was a translation error.
    The problem is not freedom. The problem is idleness.

  4. OAE events include teenagers as well, since there are so many more things that teenagers can get up to. And I know this because of my own teen years.

    That said, my favorite vacation activity is lying in the sun on a beach or near a pool, followed by swimming, followed by lying in sun, followed by swimming, with a break for lunch and then continuing until dinner.

    Even better is being in a pool in a floating lounge chair. So I guess I’m in no danger of messing up my middle-aged health on vacation.

  5. Work of genius, PG. This perfectly captures why many parents come home from family vacations exhausted and eager to get back to a regular routine, and why the couples-only getaway is a thing. Anyone with multiple kids (or grandkids, sounds like) was laughing all the way through this piece!

  6. My idea of a great vacation is going somewhere, parking the suitcases for a few days and wandering through old cities, visiting ruins and museums, and walking as much as my body and the weather will permit. Then moving to the next old city and repeating the exercise. Or going to the mountains and hiking, birding, and doing things that do not involve water or wearing shorts and short sleeves. (Natural red-head. Do NOT expose to sunlight!) 🙂

  7. Having dealt with Offspring Vomiting in Bed both at home and on vacation, I am still not sure I can definitively say which is worse. I’m pretty careful to ensure access to a full kitchen while vacationing, if at all possible, in case the vomiting lasts for more than a few hours, and I am stuck in a hotel room with a sick kid and risking starvation myself. On the plus side, vomit covered sheets can be turned over to hotel staff for cleaning. On the minus side, if you forget to bring the oral rehydration packets, one has to find a place that sells them and dispatch another adult (hopefully you brought one with you!) to go buy it, probably in the middle of the night. The only addition I would make to PG’s analysis is to note that at least with my Offspring, a lot of OAE’s involve endless questions.

    • Obviously, we’re listening to the voice of experience, Rebecca.

      One of the benefits of grandparenthood is the ability to call out, “Little Johnnie just got sick to his stomach on the cat,” if there are parental units in the vicinity.

  8. As to OAEs, there’s my youngest brother. Around seven or eight and fearlessly jumping (feet first) from the three meter board. Then he decides to ‘show off’ a wee bit more and ‘sleepwalk’ off the board … I think the entire public pool went silent for a moment at the ‘slap’ of noise his belly-buster had produced. He did manage to keep from screaming in pain until he had his head out of water. (I’d said a (at the time) bad word as he left the board and dived in from the poolside – beating the lifeguard to him.) We had a few words about being stupid and that maybe not all of big brother’s warnings weren’t just him being mean …

    This reminded me of that little brother because today’s his 56th birthday, I’ll have to call him later. 😉

  9. My mom owned a second home on the NC coast. The “big” town closest to the beach town had one of the best cardiac units, not affiliated to a university medical school, in the state. It was paid for by tourists who over-indulged, drank, and did physical things they normally didn’t do. So, sitting down to read a good book or watching the waves isn’t as evil as described.

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