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Is business travel unhealthy? (5/20/11)

May 20, 2011

Business Travel May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Worried about airplane safety?  Thinking of air traffic controllers and pilots who fall asleep,  birds flying into engine intakes, intrusive and radioactive TSA body scanners, suicide bombers with explosives knitted into their underwear?

Relax.  Heavy personal business travel is far more likely to lead to your early death than airplane mess-ups and terrorist attacks.

The data come from a study at Columbia’s Public Health School with data from EHE International’s Wellness programs.  Coming from corporate wellness programs, the results probably understate the problem.  Catherine Richards and company looked at 13,000 people and their medical charts.

The data are far from perfect, looking as they do at only one moment in time.  Yet they’re plenty scare enough for frequent road warriors, who traveled for business 20 days or more a month.  In this group:

BMI was 27.5 compared to 26.1 for light travelers

Individuals rated their health as poor 2.6 times more than light travelers

Had consistently lower HDL cholesterol levels.

Employees who did not leave the office to travel also appeared  less healthy than light travelers, with BMIs  of 26.7, and rating their health as poor 60% more than light travelers.

Yet that’s  expected.  People with disabilities and illnesses should be disproportionately represented among those who don’t travel.

But the elite travelling group has something to worry about.

Road Warriors

The group that was on the road did 81% of their travel in personal vehicles – which generally did not mean corporate jets.  Frequent business travelers in this study mostly got around by car.  As a group they’re expected to frequently “interface” with clients which means:

Business lunches – restaurant food when with clients, often fast food for the travelers while en route

More traffic hassle and stress

Sitting a lot

The Perils of Sitting

Recent data demonstrate that in those who sit more than 6 hours a day, mortality increased 37% for women and 17% for men.  The numbers went up even for habitual runners and exercisers as well. Sitting is hazardous to your health.

Human beings are walking machines.  Sitting appears to not be what our evolution designed us to do.

We were hunter gatherers for most of our species’ lifetime.  Hunter gatherer societies walk 12-14 miles a day.  When they hunt, they move pretty quickly (ever notice how many popular sports involve groups of people manipulating small objects with their hands or sticks?)

Who amongst us sits more than 6 hours a day?  Sadly, most of us.  That includes  anyone retired or with an office job; schoolchildren; even many in service industries.

People who sit more have more heart disease – the main reason for the increase in mortality.  Sitting is not good for blood flow, for joints, for fat burning.

So if sitting is a problem for so many business travelers, what’s a road warrior to do?

The Benefits of Active Rest

Most of the population sees rest as passive – sitting or sleeping.  A very unfortunate misinterpretation.

Rest is regeneration.  Rest is when your body rebuilds itself – a necessary process for your survival.  Most of you is replaced within 3-4 weeks – on the cellular level.  Take away your teeth, bones, bits of DNA and skeletal proteins, and most of you is new.  Illness generally signals a failure of that rebuilding-replacement process.

So the road warrior – and most of the rest of us – can really benefit from the many opportunities most of us have for active rest.  They include:

1. Walking to and from meals.  Even 20 minutes of walking can help you  grow new brain cells – in memory areas – during sleep – giving you greater memory storage and brain capacity.

If your work colleagues or clients don’t want to stroll with you, try doing it on your own.

2. Get up and stand when you can.  Standing takes about 25% more energy than sitting, but is particularly helpful in preventing venous clots.  You don’t need pulmonary emboli when you disembark from your plane or road trip.

3. Move around and visit.  Even a minute or two walking over to talk with a colleague or client can help revive you and provide some pleasant, useful social rest.  Social support and engagement is a big factor in avoiding early mortality.

4. Get yourself a standing desk.  I’m writing on one right now, and it’s far more fun to type on, allowing me to turn, twist, and shift around.  It’s also far more comfortable than sitting tied into a chair.

There are thousands of other means of active rest. Yet the issues tend to remain the same, so:

Ask yourself what your body evolved to do.  Sitting a long time is not a task you want to emphasize.

Travel is meant to expand the mind. It can do more.  To save your health and narrow your waistline, get out and see what’s around you.

Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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