Travel a lot for work?
For those of us who travel for our jobs, it is not an unknown fact that we seem to struggle with our health more than our office-based colleagues. We tend to put on weight, suffer from poor sleep, live off of coffee and catch more colds than most people.
Turns out, the science is supporting what our bodies already knew: people who frequently travel for their jobs tend to be at a higher level of risk for illness, weight gain and mental health problems.
Harvard Business Review recently reported several scary statistics on people who were extensive business travelers. According to research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, people who were considered to be extensive business travelers were at 95 percent greater risk of not exercising, 79 percent greater risk of becoming obese and 37 percent greater risk of suffering from sleep problems. They also exceeded the clinical threshold for depression by 127 percent, for alcohol dependency by 104 percent and anxiety by 69 percent.
Workplace wellness programs don’t really work for traveling employees because they tend to focus on employees who work a typical 8-to5 job, where travel is not very frequent. So, company-funded gym memberships, healthy foods at the cafeteria and onsite yoga classes do little to nothing for the globe trotters. Yet more and more of us are having to travel for our jobs, with many of us living on the road anywhere from 30-75 percent of our year. Yes, we rack up on the frequent flyer miles and hotel points, but we also rack up the pounds and health problems.
The first huge factor for jet setters’ declining health is poor sleep. Traveling can do three things to your sleep: reduce the quality of your sleep, reduce the hours of sleep and mess up your circadian rhythms, especially from those long trips that incur jet lag. Chronically poor sleep can lead to weight gain, increased anxiety and/or depression and can open the door for a host of illnesses to wreak havoc on the body.
It is exceptionally hard to eat healthy when you travel without some forethought going into your planning. Eating salad and “healthy” fast food isn’t very easy or practical, and it only takes one dinner out with clients to shoot the daily calorie count beyond where it should be. Do that several days in a row and you will easily gain a pound or two each trip. A trick to keeping those calories in check: use your per diem to grocery shop. Buy foods you would normally eat at home, stock the hotel room fridge with those items and stick to not eating out. Before the big customer dinner, eat a power bar or something healthy that will fill you up so you don’t head to dinner hungry.
It’s next to impossible to work out on business trips, especially those filled with long or unpredictable days. In those cases, settle for activity versus exercise. Stand when possible. Take the stairs. Park farther away. Do small activities that will burn calories and when you get back to the hotel room, knock out some push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats for 30 minutes if possible.
When the body is physically depleted, either from lack of sleep, hunger or illness, our emotional state is affected. Go easy on yourself if you don’t feel great versus constantly pushing through things. Panic attacks often occur as a way for the mind to tell the body to slow down. Chronic depletion can have mental and emotional consequences, so if you’re suffering from anxiety or occasional panic attacks, or even just feeling more uneasy during those social gatherings for work, know it’s your mind’s way of reminding you to slow down.
If you are in jobs such as sales, where your day is typically hijacked by your customers’ needs, your health and wellness will suffer even more. It is OK to put your health first. Leave the banquet 30 minutes earlier so you can get some rest. Pass when offered alcohol and push that morning meeting out until 9 a.m. so you can eat a decent breakfast.
Small changes can have profound improvements on your health, so focus on a few items and start taking better care of you.