Take your vacation - all of it

I saw it on “60 Minutes” the other day, so I’m pretty sure it’s true: Americans work longer hours than any other developed country in the world.

Whatever happened to the 40-hour workweek? You might as well ask whatever happened to eight-track tapes. Or sleeping on rollers. It’s gone, and in its place, many Americans are working 60, 70, 80 hours or more. As a certified cheerleader for healthy lifestyles, I refuse to congratulate them.

And that’s not the worst of it. Not only do Americans work more hours than other people, we also take less vacation time. A lot less. Instead of three or four weeks a year - standard practice in many lands - many of us can barely manage a week or two away from work.

And when we do go, if we do go, we take our technology with us - our PDAs, our cell phones, our computers - so we’re away from work physically, but virtually, we are still plugged in.

This is crazy. I know people will argue with me and say, “Who needs a vacation? I love my work.” But, they are wrong. We all need a break from the high-stress routines of our daily lives.

Our bodies, our minds, need to relax and unwind and refresh. It’s not selfish. It’s maintenance. And it’s crucial.

So be sure to take your vacation this year. All of it. And here are a few tips on how to make the most of any vacation you take:

Don’t overplan. Don’t add to your stress by obsessively planning every dot-and-tiddle of your next vacation. Allow one thing to lead to the next. Cultivate spontaneity, in travel and in life.

Wake up one day in a foreign place, and set out with no plan whatsoever. Stay in the moment, and let yourself by guided by your curiosity. Turn off your phone and go with the flow.

Connect with nature. Where you vacation is your own business, but it’s my business to tell you that vacation time spent outdoors, in nature, by the sea, in the woods, on a mountain, will revitalize you more and better than indoor places with air-conditioning.

Listen to the birds. Hug a tree. Row gently down a stream. It’s our nature to be nourished by nature.

Include an adventure. I’m a big believer in adventure travel. You name it - hiking, biking, paddling, snorkeling - whatever feels like fun to you. Active vacations, not too hard, but not too easy, challenge mind and body, and that combo is unbeatable for sidestepping stress and inspiring joy.

Accept what is. When you leave home, abandon expectations and enjoy the surprises. Then you won’t be disappointed by imperfect weather, strange smells, lumpy mattresses. Don’t fall into the accidental tourist trap of seeking out the familiar when you should be opening up to the unknown.

Dear Marilynn: I am bored with my treadmill. I walk on it three or four times a week, about 30 minutes to 40 minutes each time, depending on how busy I am.

Sometimes I read. Sometimes I watch television. It’s OK, but I feel it could be better. What do you suggest?

  • L.M., Chicago

A: For starters, crank up the degree of incline. Challenge yourself with some hill climbing - a minute or two at a 4- to 8-degree incline or more - followed by some easier walking, and then repeat the cycle over again. Vary your speed, too, like a few minutes of fast walking at a vigorous pace that allows you to talk, but just barely, followed by an easier pace, followed by another sprint.
Another possibility is to join a treadmill class at your local health club. The teacher will take you through a routine with weights, hills and sprints that will exhaust you and thrill you, and both of those are a lot better than being bored.

Write Marilynn Preston in care of The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300, La Jolla, 92037.