A woman wearing a fitness tracker checking her progress

Shorter Work Week Can Boost Activity, Sleep, Mental Health

As a four-day work week is trialed in countries globally, health researchers say they’re “all in” when it comes to a long weekend, especially as research from the University of South Australia shows that the extra time off is good for our health.

Assessing changes in daily movements before, during and after holidays, researchers found that people displayed more active, healthy behaviors when they were on holiday, even when they only had a three-day break.

Across the 13-month study period, people generally took an average two to three holidays, each being around 12 days. The most common holiday type was outdoor recreation (35%), followed by family/social events (31%), rest and relaxation (17%) and non-leisure pursuits such as caring for others or home renovations (17%).

Specifically, it showed that when on holiday people:

  • engaged in 13% more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day (or five minutes/day more)
  • were 5% less sedentary each day (or 29 minutes/day less)
  • slept 4% more each day (or 21 minutes/day more).

Lead author Dr. Ty Ferguson says the research indicates that people display healthier behaviors when they are on holiday.

“When people go on holiday, they’re changing their everyday responsibilities because they’re not locked down to their normal schedule,” Dr. Ferguson says. “In this study, we found that movement patterns changed for the better when on holiday, with increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behavior observed across the board.

“We also found that people gained an extra 21 minutes of sleep each day they were on holiday, which can have a range of positive effects on our physical and mental health. For example, getting enough sleep can help improve our mood, cognitive function, and productivity. It can also help lower our risk of developing a range of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.

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

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the annual rhythms in adults’ lifestyle and health (ARIA) study, in which 308 adults with an average age of 40 wore fitness trackers 24 hours a day for 13 months. Minute-by-minute movement behavior data were aggregated into daily totals to compare movement behaviors pre-holiday, during holiday and post-holiday.

Senior author Dr. Carol Maher said the study offers support for the growing movement for a four-day week. “A shorter working week is being trialed by companies all over the world. Not surprisingly, employees reported less stress, burnout, fatigue, as well as better mental health and improved work-life balance.

“This study 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 a four-day work week.

“Importantly, our study also showed that even after a short holiday, people’s increased sleep remained elevated for two weeks, showing that the health benefits of a three-day break can have lasting effects beyond the holiday itself.”

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