“[Business travel] has a wide range of physiological, psychological and emotional, and social consequences that are often overlooked, because being a ‘road warrior’ tends to get glamorized through marketing and social media,” – Scott Cohen, University of Surrey
The average frequent flyer will take between two and four business travel trips a month, and research published this year suggests that road warriors may face particular health risks that the office-based employee manages to avoid.
At least, that was the conclusion that Scott Cohen, from the University of Surrey’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management came to. In a recently published paper titled: A Darker Side of Hypermoblity, Cohen came to some not-so-pretty conclusions on the effects of frequent travel—such as faster aging, weaker immune systems, and a higher level of overall stress.
But enough of all this talk of doom and gloom. How about we focus on what road warriors can do to counterbalance all that travel stress?
How Not to Let Business Travel Negatively Affect Your Health:
Is travel aging? Cohen seems to think so. He says that people who are always skipping time zones can suffer from a state of chronic jet lag, and that this can impair memory. He also explains that there are links to chronic jet lag and a disruption in the gene expression that can influence aging and the immune system. Yikes!
Let’s be clear, any conclusions such as these are based on correlational data, and establishing a correlation does not always equal proving a cause. There may well be other lifestyle factors that a high percentage of road warriors share that are influencing the data, such as levels of exercise, alcohol consumption, personal nutrition, and stress.
The good news, is that you can take measures to overcome jet lag. The National Sleep Foundation suggests selecting a flight that will allow you to arrive in the early evening, and then making sure that you stay up until at least 10pm local time.
Additionally, make sure that you are drinking plenty of water, and avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol. Daylight stimulates your biological clock, so make sure that you spend as much time as feasible outside.
Cohen’s paper suggested that road warriors are susceptible to a weak immune system—and no, flying first class is not going to counter this. The problem it seems, is breathing recirculated air, which can expose you to a higher level of germs than breathing fresh air would do.
Then there is the jet lag again, which also negatively affects your immune system. To top it all off, the general tiredness that is a result of running from airport to hotel to meeting room and back again is not good for keeping the immune system strong.
Getting as much sleep as possible, eating a balanced diet, and taking very intentional steps to reduce your overall stress levels—such as taking up yoga or meditation—are all things that you can do to give your immune system some love. Yoga and meditation in particular are effective ways to not only lower stress, but increase circulation, improve joint health and muscular strength. Mindfulness practices work on both the physical and the mental body, so you get a lot of bang for your buck!
You’ve heard this one before a million times. You heard it from your parents who told you to eat your spinach or you wouldn’t be allowed dessert. You heard it from your doctor, who wants to know why that apple a day isn’t working. You heard it from your gym instructor, who makes you do 100 push-ups for every doughnut. You even hear it from your dog, who is always trying to get you to walk more.
Eating a balanced diet is not a new concept, nor is getting enough exercise, but sometimes the message is given so frequently that it loses its impact.
Airline foods are laden with sugar and salt. So are the restaurants that are frequent pit-stops for road warriors. Tiredness and jet lag mean that the motivation to do some exercise is often lacking, and that combined with a tendency to stop in at the hotel bar means that the business traveler is at a higher risk of obesity.
Set yourself nutrition and fitness goals, and stick with them no matter where you are.