A poll conducted last year by Opinion Research Corporation found that 29% of American workers took no paid vacation time in 2007, and another 24% took a week off or less.  According to ORC, in 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than we do.  Now, people in 41 other countries live longer.  Give US a BREAK!

Whether a BREAK for you entails a favorite sport, taking a class, reading novels by favorite authors, skiing in frigid weather, or sitting on a beach meditating, you know what refreshes you to meet and conquer new challenges.  OK, so none of us is free as a bluebird, but a little more DARE-Play, even in small doses – an hour, a day or a weekend – could help keep the crow’s feet at bay.  Here are some ideas:

1.     Break Free! Bored by your usual exercise routine?  Check out www.workoutz.com a free site with clips of every exercise you can imagine – and some you probably wouldn’t believe – like Burpees: a full body combo of squats, jumps and leg lifts, no equipment needed.  Likewise, chair boxing, or chair aerobics, plus Wii fitness and Zumba, which is pumping aerobics set to Latin music. To really pump it up, try a hula-hoop, jump rope or trampoline.  Learning any new sport – whether you intend to master it or not – can wake up your muscles, strengthen your bones and boost your calorie burn.

2.     Laugh to keep from crying. Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian medical doctor, has created “laughter yoga” – whole-body exercise of laughter with yoga breathing.  So respected, he was brought to Iraq to cheer up our soldiers.  Find laughter clubs in the U.S. at www.laughteryoga.us.

3.     You say Vacation, I say Stay-cation. Has really caught on this past year, because taking a break by exploring local landmarks, nature trails or ethnic enclaves means you can take a break without going broke doing it.

4.     Take this Job and Love It. Explore another job or career via a “vocation vacationwww.vocationvacations.com, where you’ll be paired up with a guide in your career of interest.  Worth it, if you want to pursue your second act, but need direction.

5.     Get More Head Vroom.  Get smart and have fun at the same time.  A few suggestions:

  • Retorts and All. Come up with a better comeback to that twit in your office that thinks he has all the answers!  Formulate a pithy (and respectful) rejoinder to your boss’s demand that you work yet another weekend! How? Take an improvisation class, guaranteed to improve your response time, your sense of humor and your confidence.
  • Speak Up, Speak Out.  Fear of public speaking in second only to fear of death as the most common phobia.  At some point you’ll have to deliver an articulate speech or make a sales presentation or introduce yourself at an important meeting.  And, if you’re thinking of going back to college, or starting a business where you’ll have to talk to bankers and investors, or you’re on the C-suite track, you absolutely need to know how to produce and deliver a compelling speech.  Toastmasters, www.toastmasters.org, specializes in helping almost anyone become a better speaker for almost any venue or occasion. 
  • Say What? Learn a foreign language – one of the best ways to expand your brainpower. Berlitz, www.berlitz.com specializes in “total immersion” – you engulf yourself in the history, culture, people and other facets of the country whose language you want to master.  If you just want to make sure your stay-cation isn’t cut short by ordering curry that drives a nuclear fissure through your gut,  visit www.rosettastone.com and learn a language fast, even if you’re just venturing a little out of your comfort zone.   
  • Tell me about it. If you’d rather keep your mouth shut, write a scathing tell-all memoir. You can let your fingers do the talking at www.writersonlineworkshops.com, which even offers trial runs of courses.  Feed your inner Emily Dickinson via a poetry class, or become a gossip girl via a blog-writing course. Too much work?  Get Your Life As Story, by Tristine Rainer, an easy guide filled with ideas for writing your memoirs. Chapters on:  “How to Write What You Dare Not Say,” and “Dealing with Your Dark Side” are too fun to resist.
  • Play it again, ham.  As we get older, one of the best ways to feed the brain is to learn to play a musical instrument.  An ear, nose and throat specialist once told me that many people over 40 take up piano, and not just because they’re beautiful, they’re romantic, and they’re available – even for rent – in different sizes for every setting.  The fact is that once we get to our 40s and 50s, our affinity for percussion (drums and other  instruments that are struck hard) lessens, and our preferences evolve to softer music.  Learning to play the piano requires practice that builds and expands brain cells. 
  • STOP, LOOK, LISTEN. This Is Your Brain On Music, by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, is an excellent book on how music changes your brain waves for the better, and how to choose music to help you solve problems, think up new ideas, and generally expand the energy of your brain cells.  Also, check out Fred Plotkin’s two excellent guides, Classical Music 101, and Opera 101, to learn the stories behind the music that has moved men and women for ages.
  • It’s All About IThe I-Phone has hundreds of excellent break-time apps, but if your goal is to tune out, try the Bloom App – soft chiming music with visual pops of soothing color that you can manipulate or put on auto-pilot.  The Ambiance app, a compendium of more than a dozen soothing sounds like Lake, Rain, Coast, etc., is just the antidote for that insomnia that strikes at three A.M. the night before a big presentation.
  • Read All About It.  Those of us who are sorry we didn’t pay enough attention to Shakespeare or Faulkner and other great authors, can invest just $11.65 for The New Lifetime Reading Plan:  The Classic Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded, by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, with short summaries of the greatest authors and their works.  
  • Get Into A Gap.  People over 40 who’ve been laid off and are lucky to have received compensation packages, might want to consider a “gap year” to reflect, refresh and reinvigorate their lives. An excellent guide is: The Gap Year for Grown Ups, 3rd Edition: The Most Comprehensive, Practical Guide from the Leading Gap Year Specialist, by Susan Griffith (2009).  Griffith covers it all, from the reasons for doing it, such as: “…burn-out, turning 50, sensory overload, bereavement and depression, shaking out the cobwebs…”, to how to manage career and financial implications, and even logistics of dealing with email and renting out your home if you go away.

So, whether you stay, pray or get away, whether you want to take a nap or make a gap, just DARE yourself to PLAY. Live more than a little! Live longer!