Essential Health Habits For Frequent Travelers

woman-reading-ipad( — Occasional vacations can be a great time to get away in pursuit of adventure, fun and family gatherings. But if you travel frequently for work, trips are usually not as fun, and may even be hazardous to your health.

According to a recent study, frequent business trips caused increased rates of poor health, including obesity and high blood pressure.

In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Education, researchers from Columbia University compared health risks for more than 13,000 employees who underwent physical exams in 2007. Travelers were divided into groups of non-travelers and groups that spent 1-6 days per month, 7-13 days, 14-20, and more than 21 days away from home.

The vast majority, nearly 80%, traveled at least one night per month. But about 1% were true road warriors, traveling more than 21 nights per month. And it was as unhealthy as you might imagine.

They were 2-1/2 times more likely to rate their health as fair to poor compared to light travelers who traveled 1-6 nights per month. Health risk factors were similarly elevated for extensive travelers. They were 92% more likely to be obese. And obesity tends to be accompanied by other health risks such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

Other elevated risk factors in the extensive travel group included higher diastolic pressure, elevated glucose levels and lower levels of HDL – “good” cholesterol. Previous studies of frequent travelers have also found evidence of sleep disruption and insomnia. One study reported that as many as 75% of business travelers experienced high levels of stress.

Ironically, the lightest travel group, 1-6 days per month, was reported to be healthier than the non-travelers. This may be attributed to the so-called “healthy worker” effect. Employees who have pre-existing health problems are less likely to travel than others. But other than this anomaly, self-reported health and risk factors deteriorated along with the increase in nights away from home.

Although we commonly equate business travel with airline flights, most is conducted in cars covering shorter distances. Regardless of the mode of travel, factors contributing to elevated health risks are thought to be prolonged inactivity, disruption of sleep patterns, consuming more snack and fatty foods, and lack of exercise.

Here are some recommendations for minimizing the effect of frequent travel:

• Do some homework before your trip to find healthier restaurants, and look for vegetarian fare in particular.

• Practice stress reduction and relaxation training to help ease the burden of busy schedules, waiting in lines and disruptions of daily patterns.

• If you’re an employer, incentivize good habits. For example, companies might preferentially reimburse healthier eating.

• If you’re an employer, contract with hotels that have fitness facilities or affiliations with health clubs. Some recommend developing an exercise routine with stretch cords that can be easily packed in a suitcase and used in the privacy of a hotel room.