(BPT) - If you’ve ever wondered whether there are benefits to taking a vacation or traveling, there is good news. Research shows that vacations can help you live longer and improve your mental and physical health.

According to a 2016 Harvard study, when travelers planned out their vacations at least a month in advance, traveled far from work and met new people, there was a 94% improvement in energy and outlook when they returned to work.

Conversely, the study also found that poorly planned and stressful vacations have the opposite effect. They will eliminate the benefits of a vacation.

Beyond the mental health benefits of travel and vacations, another study found clear health benefits to taking a vacation. In fact, men who took less than three weeks of vacation time annually had a 37% greater chance of dying than those who took more than three weeks.

But not all vacations are created equal. The vacation experts at Hilton Grand Vacations, a vacation ownership company, offer these six smart ways to maximize your time away.

1. Go with people you love.

Numerous studies point to the health benefits of having a strong social support network, and a vacation can be a great way to nurture and strengthen those relationships. According to the Mayo Clinic, social support can improve the ability to cope with stressful situations, alleviate emotional distress, enhance self-esteem and lower heart attack risk factors such as high blood pressure.

“To give yourself the flexibility to expand your social circle, stay somewhere with enough space to accommodate extra people so you can invite friends or family to join you,” recommends Kian Conley, with Hilton Grand Vacations. “With vacation ownership, also known as timeshare, you can swap the confinement of traditional hotel rooms and the uncertainty of private home rental for spacious multi-bedroom suites with full kitchens, living and dining areas, and laundry facilities. That gives you and your guests plenty of space to spread out and enjoy each other’s company.”

2. Eat well-balanced meals.

One of the great pleasures of going on vacation can be trying new and exotic foods, but remember the basics of good nutrition.

Consider staying somewhere with a kitchen, because while you may enjoy eating out at restaurants some of the time, eating out for every single meal every single day can become tiresome. Plus, having a kitchen gives you more control over what you eat because you know the ingredients. Not to mention, cooking with family and friends can be a fun and relaxing bonding experience.

3. Exercise.

There's no question that exercise reduces stress and improves health. According to Harvard Health Publishing, exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, including cortisol and adrenaline. Additionally, it stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers and mood lifters.

So, whether it's walking on the beach, working out at the fitness center or attending a yoga class, a vacation — especially one in a resort setting with workout amenities — gives you a great opportunity to take care of yourself. You can also take advantage of being away from your normal routine to start a new exercise habit that you can continue long after the vacation is over.

4. Explore new places.

According to research reported by the American Psychological Association, vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety. Getting away and exploring new places stimulates your mind and may also give you an attitude boost. The APA says that even a short vacation can reduce stress, citing a small Japanese study that found just a three-day trip lowered perceived stress levels and lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

5. Catch up on Zzzs.

Many people pack daily life with non-stop activity from sunup to sundown, which can lead to a constant state of stress, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. According to the American Institute of Stress, being overworked and overstimulated without enough time to wind down can confuse the body about when it's time for action and when it's time to rest. Use your vacation to reset your body clock and get the rest you need. You may even want to sneak in a nap or two.

6. Plan ahead but be flexible.

“Find ways to vacation that give you options about who to bring with you, where to go and what to do,” recommends Conley. “As an example, timeshare from Hilton Grand Vacations offers flexibility by letting you choose bigger accommodations with home-away-from-home conveniences. We also offer flexibility around where to stay and time of year to travel, so that you can go back to your favorite tried-and-true destination again and again, or branch out and explore the world.”

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