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The United States is considered to be a leader in many fields, but healthcare is not one of them. In most rankings, the US is about number 30, just behind Cuba. Russia could teach the US a few things. Here are five of them.

Russia is not a country known for healthy lifestyles. The culture of Russia is not one that fosters depression, self-pity, or self-indulgence. However, Russians care about their health just like anyone else, and in some ways, Russia does an exceptionally good job of providing for its citizens. Here are five ways in which the much-vaunted United States could learn from the Russian Republic.

1. Russians Get Vastly More Vacation Time

Americans get, on average, just 8.1 days a year in vacation time, and that tiny bit is not usually awarded the first year. Russians, like French, Lithuanians, Brazilians, and Finlanders, get a full 40 days a year (that's eight weeks) of vacation after they have been at the same job for 10 years, in addition to public holidays.
 
What are the health consequences for Americans who live in their "no vacation nation"? There are two ways not being able to take substantial vacations hurts Americans. 
 
They don't get a chance to recover from workplace stress, whether it's office politics or carpal tunnel syndrome or exposure to unregulated toxic chemicals emitted into their workplace environments. Also, they don't benefit from the social interaction and opportunities for growth afforded by having two months a year off the job. 
 
Americans tend to sneak in a vacation around holidays, which really should be spent enjoying family and friends or honoring one's country, but that's hardly the same as an extended period devoted to personal development and health. 
 
What is wrong with not being able to take an extended vacation? Psychological studies conducted in Western Europe find that people only begin to unwind about the eighth day (second week) of their vacations. An average of 23 consecutive days off the job is necessary for a beneficial effect.
 
It isn't that American employers don't know about the benefits of extended vacations. In the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT) trial in the United States, American researchers found that middle aged men at risk for cardiovascular disease who got to take a vacation at least once a year were:
  • 17 percent less likely to die of any cause during the succeeding year, and
  • 32 percent less likely to die of a heart attack during the succeeding year.

2. Russians Get Fewer Colds

As cold a place as Russia is, you would expect that Russians would get a lot more colds and flu during the winter. They don't. Why is this? While Russian people in general are skeptical of high-priced herbal medicines, they are experts in the use of teas. Siberian ginseng (which Americans, bizarrely, are required by law to call "eleuthero") and chamomile are favorite remedies, and they work. Siberian ginseng tonifies the immune system to produce the T-cells that fight infection rather than the T-cells that break down healthy tissues. 
Chamomile, as long as it is brewed in a covered tea pot, to keep the volatile healing chemicals from escaping, is anti-inflammatory. It is soothing. It doesn't fight the virus, and it does not stimulate the immune system, but it relieves the itching, scratching, burning pain of a viral infection. Russians don't waste money on antibacterial soaps that cannot fight viral infections.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Gump BB, Matthews KA. Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosom Med. 2000 Sep-Oct
  • 62(5):608-12.
  • Photo courtesy of Peter Becker via Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/peterbecker/233071629
  • Photo courtesy of Torsten Mangner via Flickr: Torsten Mangner

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