Want to be a better worker? Take your vacation days!

Courtesy of Capital One

Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
By Capital One

Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are spending way too many days at work. According to a 2014 analysis by Oxford Economics, “U.S. employees left an average of 3.2 vacation days on the table last year.” And as counterintuitive as it may seem, working so hard can actually make these hard workers less valuable, because the survey also found that the benefits of paid time off include “improved productivity and better performing, more dedicated employees.”

And therein lies the irony: If you want to make yourself more valuable at work, take a vacation.

But vacations pay off in the more important areas of life, too — starting with how long you might live. Citing two long-term studies, The New York Times reported that both men and women who took regular vacations suffered fewer heart attacks compared to those who didn’t. “Vacations are not simply a luxury,” the article said. “There is increasing evidence that they really are necessary for good health.”

In addition to the physical benefits, vacations offer mental benefits as well. The New York Times also referenced a study by consulting firm Alertness Solutions in which researchers found that after just a few days on vacation, subjects averaged “an hour more of good quality sleep. And there was an 80 percent improvement in their reaction times.”

Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY.

However, in terms of quality of life, perhaps the most important benefits of a vacation are the emotional ones. “Couples in a romantic relationship report traveling together makes them significantly more likely to be satisfied in their relationships,” a 2012 survey from the U.S. Travel Association reported. The survey also noted that traveling couples also communicate well, enjoy more romance, and share common goals and desires.

So while vacations are obviously good for you mentally, physically and emotionally, something is still holding some Americans back — money. According to the Oxford Economics survey, 17 percent of respondents did not take all of their paid time off in 2013 “because they were unable to afford travel.”

But vacations don’t have to be expensive to be effective, and even a long weekend away can have long-term benefits. And as for paying for them, you can always employ some classic, time-tested, and non-stressful techniques like saving up gradually, forgoing small luxuries, and defraying airfare costs by seeking out credit cards that offer the most generous mile-earning programs.

Most banks offer cards that let you earn a mile for every dollar in purchases, but they often restrict your travel to certain airlines and dates. But some cards, like the Venture card from Capital One, let you earn miles faster. As a cardholder, you can earn two miles for every dollar you spend in purchases, and there’s no limit to the number of miles you can earn. But best of all, the card also allows you to use your miles to fly on any airline — or stay at any hotel — at any time. There are no blackout dates, no “book-by” dates, and the miles never expire.

So now, knowing that some time away makes you more valuable to your employer, your family, and yourself, you no longer need an excuse to take a vacation — you need an excuse to not take one.