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Business Travel Is Bad for Your Health

image for shironosov / Getty Images
shironosov / Getty Images
  • Healthy business travel means eating healthy and staying hydrated.
  • Fighting illness is essential when traveling for business.
  • Exercise routines don't have to suffer during business travel. 

Travel is often cited as a way to expand one's mind, eliminate stress and add new experiences to your life.

Business travel? Not so much. Frequent business travelers are well aware of the stresses that come with being on the road. While most people know the health dangers that accompany stress, including high blood pressure, changes in weight and issues with concentration, did you know that business travel also comes with its own health risks? Such obligatory trips often are accompanied with late-night or early-morning flights, bad food and insufficient sleep. It's the kind of trip that makes you long to be home.

A report from the Harvard Business Review found a "strong correlation" between how frequently one traveled for business and a number of physical and behavioral health risks.

In the report, Andrew Rundle, an associate professor of epidemiology in Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, discovered that those who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month, compared to those who spend one to six nights a month on business travel, had "significantly higher body mass index scores." They were also significantly more likely to report "poor self-rated health; clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping."

Those findings were echoed in a past study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. In that research, those who traveled 21 or more nights for a six-month period had many of the same ailments: more likely to smoke, trouble sleeping, being sedentary, and scoring above the clinical threshold in topics like alcohol dependence and depression compared to those traveling one to six nights during the same period.

Simply cutting back on business travel would be the most straightforward solution. However, everyone's specific demands are different, and it just might not be an option.

So how do you avoid being negatively impacted by the potential hazards of business travel? Rundle noted in his article that companies should tackle this issue directly. "We suggest a combination of employee education and improvements in employer policies around travel," he said.

Here are some tips for healthier business travel.

It may be tempting to head to the hotel restaurant to reward yourself with a steak dinner after a long day of meetings with clients. But studies have shown that restaurant foods are higher in fat and contain more calories that meals prepared at home. Unhealthy eating, combined with the stress that often accompanies business travel, is a risky combination that may lead to "cravings" for even more high-calorie foods and beverages.

There are several things you can do to help combat the risk of unhealthy eating while traveling. For instance, reviewing the menu before going to the restaurant will allow you time to consider the options and you can call ahead to see if foods can be prepared in a healthier manner. When making hotel reservations, request a room with a mini refrigerator, which will allow you to stock up on healthy foods from a local grocery store as opposed to eating all meals out.

It's fine to indulge in the occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine while traveling, but it's important that you also drink as much water as possible. Not only will drinking water help to prevent dehydration, but it's only beneficial for eliminating unhealthy toxins from your body. This may include the extra salt that's often included in restaurant and fast-food meals, as well as the environmental particles your body absorbs. Drinking water before meals will also help you feel fuller; this will reduce the risk of overindulging in unhealthy foods.

Business travel means you will be exposed to individuals that aren't traveling with just their luggage, but with germs as well. Unfortunately, the sleep deprivation, stress and fatigue that typically occur during traveling may also weaken your immune system, putting you at an even greater risk of getting sick. The easiest way to reduce the risk of illness while traveling is with frequent hand washing. When traveling by air, be sure to use an anti-bacterial wipe to clean arm rests and tray tables. Staying hydrated will also help to keep your nasal passages moist, which makes you less prone to picking up germs.

Maintaining a regular exercise regimen is difficult when you are on the road. Sadly, between the jet lag, high-calorie meals and stress, this lack of exercise can lead to weight gain as well as other health risks, such as cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that you don't need to skip out on exercise altogether. There are plenty of ways to get some exercise in during business travel. For instance, opting for accommodations that offer fitness facilities will allow you to get a few cardio reps in before or after business meetings. If the hotel doesn't provide access to a fitness facility, there are simple exercises you can do in your room, such as sit-ups, lunges, crunches and squats; all of which will keep your metabolism working and your energy high. No matter what type of exercise you do, even if it's taking a walk to sightsee, the important thing is that you are moving.

If employees are nudged to seek out healthier alternatives and armed with information about what a better meal choice may look like, there's a chance they'll make that choice. Additionally, stress management and mindfulness can be an important part of taking better care of yourself while away. Late nights, early mornings and terrible eating habits while on the go can also take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Mobile applications like Headspace are a good place to start for dialing back some of the stress.

Better eating and sleeping habits, improved self-monitoring, and other proactive measures can make a major difference in how such trips make you feel. The long-term health impacts can add up if unhealthy habits creep in and follow you back. Both employers and employees can set a path for better health outcomes.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.