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Take your vacation time or you might pay with your health — seriously!

While it’s always a bummer coming back to work after a long weekend like Labor Day, everyone usually looks a little brighter and happier. The reason for this is that our bodies and minds function better when we give them a break — and much worse when we don’t.

Americans are especially guilty of overworking and avoiding vacations to get ahead. In fact, in 2013, Americans took less time off than they did in the past four decades and gave up $52.4 billion in time-off benefits. Not only did this negatively impact our economy, but it likely compromised everyone’s health. Several studies have already confirmed that not giving your mind and body a rest at least twice a year can take a serious toll. And we’re not just talking about feeling run-down — these effects have the potential to shorten your life span.

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Body health

According to Business Insider, men who don’t take vacations for five years are 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than men who take at least a week off every year. Women who took time off only every six years increase their chances of having a heart attack eight-fold compared to those who took time twice a year. And it doesn’t matter if you fly 10 hours to your vacation destination or just take a three-hour trip down to the shore — the point is to take your mind and body out of its daily, stressful routine.

Mind health

It makes sense that working longer hours would increase our stress levels, but those higher levels can hurt our mental health too over time. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that people who work 11-hour days or longer are twice as likely to fall into a deep depression, even if they never had a depressive episode before.

Good reasons to take more time off

The negative impacts are reason enough to start planning that winter getaway to the Bahamas, but the benefits make it even more essential to our overall well-being. For one thing, it increases productivity significantly. According to researcher Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions, taking that weekend away increases work performance by 80 percent. This may have something to do with well-rested folks having a 40 percent faster reaction time than those poor souls who worked through the weekend.

More: Netflix changes game for working parents with unlimited parental leave

Fortunately newer companies are starting to catch on to the positive effects more employee vacations is having on their business. Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, told CNN, “We’re seeing multiple companies — Expedia and Netflix and others — that are doing away with their vacation policies entirely. They’ve just said, ‘We no longer have a vacation policy; please discuss with your boss and take the time off you need.'” This more lax, open-ended vacation policy is allowing employees to feel freer to utilize vacation time whenever they might need it. That, coupled with its year-long maternity and paternity leave, makes it look like Netflix is vying to win best company to work for ever. Hopefully its employee-driven policies will inspire other companies to follow its lead.

Creativity also tends to increase when you’re away from your office. According to CNN, employees often have their best ideas when they’re on vacation or relaxing over the weekend. This is why taking a walk or meditating often helps stir the creative juices — you’re giving your brain a chance to breath and see things with a more relaxed, open vantage point.

All this supports a move toward the infamous four-day workweek — an idea that was expounded upon by The New York Times writer Jason Fried. Since then, several successful entrepreneurs have touted the benefits of it, and a few American companies have even begun to implement it to test its worth. I believe that as more millennials claim heads of company positions, this idea will grow stronger, because it flies in the face of the long-imposed, traditional work ethic. Work hours will become more flexible, which will in turn (hopefully) encourage people to take more time off and feel a whole lot better.

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