Fitting in fitness, eating well and having the time to relax and rejuvenate can be an overwhelming quest for anyone—and if you add business travel to the mix, it may even feel impossible.
However, if traveling for business is part of your routine, it is imperative that you do everything possible to adjust your health habits when on the road. A recent study conducted by researchers at Columbia University reviewed the data on 13,000 people who were part of a corporate wellness program. Researchers found that traveling for business was linked to an increase in health risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels. What's more, the more nights a worker spent on the road, the greater his or her risk became.
Traveling alone isn't necessarily linked to these health risks. But the long periods of inactivity (including downtime at the airport and extended days without a trip to the gym), decreased sleep (whether due to difficulty sleeping in a different environment, late nights or changes in time zones), increased stress, and dining out on fattening foods are the real problem. But you are not doomed to gain weight or become unhealthy because you travel for work. With a little creativity, you can still take care of yourself while you're away from home—no matter how often you may travel. But it takes a firm commitment to self-care and some proactive planning.
Here are some ideas that work well for me and many of my professional clients who frequently travel.
- Plan ahead to have healthy foods and snacks for traveling. If you are flying to reach your destination, don't depend on the airport and airplane food. Bring your own sandwiches, salads and/or portable healthy snacks as often as possible, or choose wisely in the airport. Check with your carrier in advance and if available request low-cal, low-fat and low-cholesterol choices.
- When traveling by car, pack a cooler or insulated lunch box. Stock it with fresh fruits, low-fat cheese sticks, granola bars, whole-grain crackers, trail mix and of course, plenty of water. Roadside rest stops and restaurant options are notorious for high-fat, high-calorie foods and finding nutritious selections can be challenging.
- Don't let boredom lead to overeating. Long hours of travel can lead to boredom snacking. Make sure you have lots of things to entertain yourself: a great book or audio book, an iPod or MP3 player loaded with your favorite music, magazines, crosswords or Sudoku puzzles, or your laptop computer.
- Before leaving for your trip, call the hotel and request that they empty the mini-bar. This is a great option if you think you might not be able to control yourself in the face of tempting sweets and drinks. This way, you can use the empty refrigerator to house your own water and healthy snacks. If they can't accommodate you, decline the mini-bar key when you check-in to avoid temptation.
- When frequenting restaurants for business lunches and dinners, apply the same healthy habits you've adopted at home. Ask for dressings on the side; have your food baked, broiled or grilled; load up on fresh veggies, asking that they be steamed or very lightly sautéed in olive oil; and stop eating when satisfied rather than stuffed.
- Limit alcohol. You may think your colleagues expect you to drink when gathering at the bar after a day of meetings, but no one will give it a second thought if you sip club soda or diet soft drinks instead. Most people are shocked to discover how caloric many alcoholic beverages can be—some containing more than an entire meal! If you do want to drink, stick to diet-friendly choices like wine, light beer, or simple mixes of 1.5 ounces of hard liquor mixed with seltzer, diet soda, or a splash of light juice.
- If possible, skip "happy hour" altogether. This could be the best hour to squeeze in a workout at the hotel gym, or a walk outside, weather permitting. You may even find a partner to join you if you ask. Your business associate might be thrilled with the chance to get in his or her workout as well!
- Whenever possible, book a hotel with a fitness facility. No doubt about it, convenience is key to fitting in fitness. When you are only an elevator ride away from the gym, the chances that you'll use it increase. Check meeting schedules and appointments, and plan your workout time in advance.
- If your hotel does not have a fitness facility, ask if they have a relationship with a nearby health club. Most hotels without fitness facilities have established a relationship with a club where hotel guests can go for free or pay a nominal fee. Contact them before you leave home to check fees for a day pass, class schedules and amenities.
- Wear your comfortable shoes while traveling. Airports and train stations always include long corridors and long waits. Use them to include brisk walking. Avoid moving walkways, and take stairs rather than escalators. If you have a long wait time before boarding, don't just sit: get up and walk. After all, you have hours ahead of you to sit still on the plane, so make the most of the time you have while you wait. Make sure your carry-on has wheels so that it won't hinder your movement. If driving, take a break every 1-2 hours, and walk around the parking lot of a rest stop.
- If your travels include long layovers in the airport, find out if there is an airport fitness facility. Many large airports in major cities have areas to work out and shower. Some even have spa amenities such as massages or nail services. To find out if the airport you will be passing through has these facilities, check out www.airportgyms.com.
- Ask the hotel concierge for a map of walking/running trails that are nearby and safe. Ending a long day of back-to-back indoor meetings with some outdoor exercise is rejuvenating, and a great way to burn some calories before a business dinner.
- Pack a resistance band and a jump rope and turn your room into a mini gym. Even a 20-minute routine that includes push-ups, crunches, squats, and lunges, will help maintain your fitness level while away. Check out the numerous workout video options on YouTube, right from your laptop!
- Be determined and committed to maintaining your fitness, but be flexible with your routine. Don't allow your travels to be an excuse to stop working out, but recognize that even if you need to shorten your workout, some activity is always better than none.