As countries around the world test the four-day work week, health researchers at the University of South Australia say they’re ‘all in’ when it comes to long weekends, especially as new empirical research shows that extra time off is good for our health.

Image credit: University of South Australia

By assessing changes in daily behavior before, during, and after vacation, researchers found that people exhibited more active, healthy behaviors when they were on vacation, even when they only had a three-day break.

Throughout the 13-month study period, people typically took an average of two to three vacations, each of about 12 days. The most common type of vacation was ‘outdoor recreation’ (35 percent), followed by ‘family/social events’ (31 percent), ‘rest and relaxation’ (17 percent) and ‘non-retirement pursuits’ such as caring for others or home renovations. for (17 percent).

Specifically, it shows that people on holidays:

  • Engaged in 13 percent more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day (or more than five minutes/day)
  • Were five percent less sedentary per day (or 29 minutes/day less)
  • Four percent more sleep per day (or 21 minutes/day more).

UniSA researcher Dr Ty Ferguson said the research indicated that people exhibited healthier behaviors when they were on holiday.

“When people go on vacation, they change their daily responsibilities because they’re not locked into their normal schedule,” says Dr. Ferguson.

“In this study, we found that movement patterns changed for the better during the holidays, with increased physical activity and reduced resorting behavior across the board.

“We also found that people got an extra 21 minutes of sleep per day on holiday, which can have a positive impact on our physical and mental health. For example, adequate sleep can help improve our mood, cognitive function and productivity. It can also help reduce the risk of developing a range of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.

“Surprisingly, the size of these changes increased in line with vacation length—so the longer the vacation, the better the health benefits.”

Data from research used Annual Rhythms of Lifestyle and Health in Adults (ARIA) Study in which 308 adults (mean age 40.4 years) wore a 24-hour fitness tracker for 13 months. Minute-by-minute movement behavior data were aggregated into daily totals to compare movement behavior before, during, and after the holiday.

Senior researcher Professor Carol Maher of UniSA said the study provides support for increasing movement for the four-day week.

A shorter work week is being tested by companies around the world. Not surprisingly, employees report less stress, burnout, fatigue, as well as improved mental health and better work-life balance.”

Professor Carol Maher, Senior Researcher, UniSA

“This research provides empirical evidence that people have healthier lifestyle patterns when they have a short break, such as a three-day weekend. This increase in physical activity and sleep is expected to have positive effects on both mental and physical health, contributing to the benefits observed with the four-day work week.

“Importantly, our study also showed that even after a short vacation, people’s extended sleep was improved for two weeks, showing that the health benefits of a three-day break can have long-lasting effects beyond the vacation.

“As the world adjusts to a new normal, perhaps it’s time to embrace the long weekend as a way to boost our physical and mental health.”


University of South Australia

Journal Reference:

Ferguson, T., etc (2023). How does 24-hour mobility behavior change during and after vacation? A cohort study. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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