Vacations and Your Health

Over the course of several years, the Duke Clergy Health Initiative conducted extensive research into the physical wellness of thousands of clergy. One of the more interesting and significant findings was the correlation between taking extended time off and heart health and blood pressure. As we head into the exceptionally busy season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, now is a good time to be intentional and plan for strategic days off leading up to the holidays and then for an extended time away from ministry-work sometime in the new year. It is good stewardship of the body which God gave you and through which you minister; without good physical health, it is difficult to minister to others effectively. Consider the five following points taken from an article from the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, “Lowering Blood Pressure, One Day at A Time.”

 “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” 3 John 2 (ESV)

  1. Vacations and Blood Pressure. New findings from the Clergy Health Initiative suggest that the number of vacation days clergy take is inversely linked to the likelihood that they will have high blood pressure. That is, pastors who take less vacation time are more likely to report having high blood pressure than those who take more time away. . . .Of those pastors in the survey who took no vacation during the previous year, 40 percent had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to 37 percent of those who had taken one week of vacation and 34 percent of those who had taken two weeks.
  2. Vacations and heart health. The landmark Framingham Heart Study which began in the 1940s and spans three generations, found in 1992 that women who took infrequent vacations — once every six years or less — were significantly more likely to develop coronary disease than those who vacationed more frequently. Another study in 2000 found that middle-aged men who were at risk for coronary disease were less likely after nine years to die from heart problems if they took more frequent annual vacations.
  3. The Body Under Stress. When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, releasing chemicals that elevate blood pressure, heart rate and total energy consumption. When the stressor passes, the parasympathetic nervous system releases chemicals that calm the body and mind, returning them to their normal state of balance, called allostasis.
  4. The Body Under Prolonged Stress. When a person is subjected to prolonged or chronic stress, the allostatic system is thrown out of balance, exposing the body to longer periods of mental strain, increased energy consumption, higher blood pressure and increased heart rate. Taking time off or otherwise separating oneself from work or other sources of stress allows the body to resume its allostatic balance.
  5. Plan for extended times away. Researchers thus theorize that vacation — a break of more than two days from work-related activities — may be important for maintaining overall health and well-being. Given that pastors don’t typically have a weekend break — most take just a single day off per week — it’s even more important that clergy schedule downtime.


To learn more, see the following resources:

From the Duke Clergy Health Initiative (December 5, 2011) “Lowering Blood Pressure, One Day Off at a Time”.

Access more articles for clergy and their health at the Duke Clergy Health Initiative.


Physical contributor: Dr. David Higle, Director of Clergy Care, Education & Clergy Development

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle