Plan your getaway for a week or just a weekend. A 2009 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that engaging in enjoyable leisure-time activities can lower stress hormones and blood pressure. Plus, it's fun.
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Getty ImagesMy first cousin Laura asked me and another cousin, Liz, to join her on a weekend mini-vacation. I knew it would be good for me, but now a new study backs me up!

Laura and I share a July birthday, which weve never celebrated together. And though Laura, Liz, and I love seeing each other at family events, weve never hung out, just the three of us. So we unanimously decided to make some new family history.

Laura was due for some fun: Her mother recently passed away after a 10-year battle with a blood cancer, and Laura dropped everything to tend her while working a demanding job in television sports. Liz, too: Shes a top retail executive and the mother of three boys. Her workday starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m.

Compared to the lives of Laura and Liz, my whole life is a vacation; I dont commute and I dont answer to a boss. Still, the stresses of being family breadwinner and a freelance writer are real enough. Plus, I havent taken a vacation in years.

So off we went to a lovely resort just outside of Atlantic City, N.J. I admit, I worried a little at first about how relaxing it would be to share a room for two nights (and a bathroom) with two women relatives that I havent spent much time with.

I absolutely neednt have. I was stunned to discover how utterly relaxed I became in the short time between Friday afternoon and Sunday. Im sure the heavenly massage, facial, and spa manicure I enjoyed, to say nothing of the strolling, shopping, pool-lounging, and divine food, and our brief stint in the resorts fitness room, and the howling fun we had staying up late on Friday playing pool and air hockey, helped me unwind so quickly. I swear I could literally feel the stress hormones leaving my body.

Study says: Have fun!
Turns out, thats exactly what was happening to me. According to a study published Thursday in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, engaging in enjoyable leisure activities can lower stress hormones and blood pressure, make you feel better all over, and reduce your waist circumference and body mass index (although Im pretty sure the Friday night gala all-you-could-eat seafood buffet probably canceled out those last two benefits).

In the study, 1,400 people reported how often they participated in activities like vacationing, going to clubs, playing sports, or plain old loafing around. Folks who spent the most time doing many different fun activities reaped the most health benefits. Though the study may sound like “duh" research (what I call studies whose results seem painfully obvious), the scientist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who conducted it makes a good point.

“When youre under stress, the usual thing is to cut back on enjoyable activities because youre feeling uncomfortable and you need more time to deal with the stress. But these data suggest thats the wrong thing to do, and that continuing enjoyable activities can be helpful,” says study coauthor Karen Matthews, PhD, a professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and psychology.

Thats all I needed to hear. Im planning to take a real vacation with my husband, Frank, at the end of August. Not sure where yet, but it will absolutely be someplace that has lots and lots of fun things to do. Suggestions are welcome!