To do so, they reviewed the health data of 1,222 middle-aged male executives involved in a previous trial from the 1970s. The participants, who each had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, were then randomly split into a control group and an intervention group.
Those in the latter group received oral and written advice every four months to do aerobic physical activity, eat a healthy diet, achieve a healthy weight and stop smoking. Some even took medication when health advice alone was not effective.
Although the risk of heart disease had been reduced by 46 percent in the intervention group, the scientists previously reported that there were more deaths in the intervention group than in the control group at the 15-year follow-up.
The European Society of Cardiology researchers extended the follow-up to 40 years using national death registers and previously unreported data on work, sleep and vacation time.
After analyzing the results, they found that shorter vacations were associated with excess deaths in the intervention group. In fact, men who had taken three weeks or less of annual vacation had a 37 percent greater chance of dying compared to those who had taken more than three weeks.
“The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time. In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations,” coauthor Timo Strandberg said in a statement. “This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention. We think the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on these men by adding stress to their lives.”
The researchers noted stress management wasn’t part of the preventative medicine in the 1970s. However, it is now a recommendation for people with heart disease risk.
They also added that health education is not harmful, but stress reduction should be part of health maintenance. “Lifestyle advice should be wisely combined with modern drug treatment to prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals,” Strandberg said.