If you’re a road warrior who spends your life on airplanes, then you probably already suspect that the lifestyle is not ideal for your health. Stress, sleep interruption, unhealthy eating and drinking, and lack of exercise can add up to chronic disease risks.
A recent study of electronic medical data on thousands of U.S. employees suggests that the health consequences might be worse than we realized. It found a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of health risks. People who spend 14 or more nights a month away from home for business travel (roughly 12% of corporate executives overall) had significantly higher body mass index scores, and were more likely to report poor self-rated health, clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence, smoking, and trouble sleeping. Those who traveled 21 or more nights per month were 92% more likely to be obese, compared with those who traveled less frequently. They also reported higher diastolic blood pressure and lower good cholesterol.
Confirming this data, a study of health insurance claims by the World Bank found that frequent travelers had significantly higher claims for chronic diseases such as asthma, back disorders, and stress-related disorders than those who traveled less often.
What to do? Some of the consequences are self-imposed. The researchers recommend that road warriors skip the steak with fries and a late night cocktail at the hotel bar as a reward for acing a long day of client meetings; restaurant food contains more calories per serving and is higher in total fat than meals prepared at home. Frequent fliers should look for exercise options while they’re on the road, perhaps by only staying at hotels with well-equipped gyms.
Since stress is a constant travel companion, companies could provide stress management counseling and other coping strategies. Perhaps most importantly, workers can consider whether they actually need to be on the road so frequently.
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