Health Risks of Business Travel

Health Risks of Business Travel

It’s no secret. Business travel affects your health. “There are even academic journals, such as the Journal of Travel Medicine and Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, dedicated almost exclusively to the toxic effects of travel,“ (”The Health Risks of Business Travel”, Harvard Business Review).

And yet, despite the number of journals, articles, and studies on the health risks of business travel, the practice “remains a critical driver of the success of organizations around the globe,” says Michael W. McCormick, COO and Executive Director, Global Business Travel Association. (“Global Business Travel Spend Topped Record-Breaking $1.2 Trillion USD in 2015, Will Reach $1.6 Trillion by 2020”, GBTA Press Release)

Why is Business Travel So Unhealthy?

According to the Harvard Business Review, “frequent business travel, especially long-haul travel, accelerates aging and increases the likelihood of suffering a stroke, heart attack, and deep-vein thrombosis. It also exposes travelers to pathological levels of germs and radiation. If you fly over 85,000 miles per year, you are absorbing radiation levels above the regulatory limit of most countries.”

Frequent business travel is one end of the spectrum, but even intermittent travel has its effects. Jet lag, lack of sleep, unhealthy eating, and less exercise all take their toll. And while we can’t easily control long-haul travel implications, we can mitigate many of the health risks of business travel.

Business Travel Health Tip #1: Eat Healthy

Many of the health risks of business travel are due to poor nutrition. Eating well while traveling is extremely difficult. If you often travel to the same places, you probably know where to find healthier, smarter meals. But if you’re visiting new cities, it’s hard to know what to do.

Plan ahead to improve your odds of eating well.

“Staying healthy when you’re traveling can be a huge challenge since you’re constantly eating out,” says Nutritionist Karen Ansel (“How to eat healthy while traveling”, Business Insider). Her top tips include “packing healthy food you can make into breakfast on-the-go, tweaking your order at restaurants, and bringing sensible snacks portioned into bags to avoid overeating between meals.”

Depending on your itinerary, packing food isn’t always a viable option. Make healthier choices at restaurants (portion size, no dessert, fewer carbs), drink more water and less alcohol – it will make a difference.

Business Travel Health Tip #2: Exercise

Easier said than done. Exercise isn’t easy for many of us at home, much less when we travel. Even if jet lag isn’t a factor, the distractions and unpredictability of travel make it hard to keep to a routine. Plan ahead and make activity a priority to ensure that exercise is top-of-mind.

Bodyweight exercises (pushups, situps, squats) and bringing basic equipment (skipping rope, resistance bands) along with you is also helpful. 

Using wearables can help monitor the activity you are (or aren’t) doing, and remind you when you’re falling behind. Day-to-day, this isn’t always an issue, but when traveling getting a ping from our Fitbit reminds us to get out-and-about.

Millennials Like to Travel and Exercise

A GBTA report from a few years ago stated, “millennials want to travel more for business.” Specifically, they want to travel twice as much as baby boomers because they feel there is more value in face-to-face meetings. 

Interestingly, a recent report indicates that while millennials travel a lot, they are also “the generation most likely to exercise on the road, with 46% working out every or almost every trip, compared to 41% of GenXers and 38% of Boomers,” (GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™ Global Report — January 2017).

Know the Rules

If your employer requires you to travel a lot for business, be aware of what expenses are covered (i.e.-fitness facility fees, rental equipment, dining, etc.) during your trips.

According to the GBTA Business Traveler Sentiment Index™ Global Report, “two-thirds (67 percent) of business travelers say their company cares about their well-being while on the road.”

While the details of how companies are taking care of their employees while traveling aren’t outlined, the report does provide employers with some guidance:

Determine the amenities employees use or want to use on the road, such as access to fitness facilities or complimentary breakfast, and if they’re not already covered, consider negotiating with travel suppliers to include them. If travel policies change to cover amenities that weren’t previously included, communicate these changes so employees are clear on what is and is not covered.

Be aware of your company’s travel policy.  And communicate your needs to your employer to avoid the health risks of business travel.