Note: I am not a doctor, physical therapist, personal trainer, or nutritionist. Any thoughts in this post are observations of an ordinary person who is concerned about his health.
This past week I had the opportunity travel for work and while gone, this topic started forming in my head. Traveling, whether for pleasure or employment, can have positive and negative effects on our health. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel for work and on occasion to travel for pleasure with my family. For each trip, I have had differing results in being able to control my weight for when I returned back home. There have been some trips where my weight increased over 10 lbs and others where I came back the same weight from when I left. I cannot remember any time that I have actually lost weight on a trip. I have come to consider it a personal victory if I can return home where the increase is 4 lbs or less. I have also realized that traveling for work has a worse impact than traveling for pleasure. Part of the reason is that when I travel for work, I have less control over where I eat and the times that I eat, and activities can impact my ability to fit in exercise during the trip. With all this in mind I thought that I would document some observances that I have made over the years.
Whether traveling via plane or car (I have never experienced other methods of transportation) the body undergoes different stresses that it does not normally experience while at home. Being confined to small spaces, and stuck in a single position over time and going through different elevations and pressures can impact our circulatory and muscular systems. A while back, a friend had recommended doing some light stretches before, during and after can help reduce the strains that these types of travels add to the body. The times I remember to do that, I tend to have less of an impact from the times that I forget.
It seems that wherever we go, transportation agencies make a significant effort in trying to make our travel as easy as possible. This is good and bad. All the escalators, people movers, elevators make it easier to get from one place to another, but at the same time it limits the amount of exercise we get thus negatively impacting our health while at the same time making it easier to get from one place to another. It is difficult to weigh the ease of travel against the desire to be healthier. Add that to the fact that many times we are limited in the amount of time we need to get from one place to another and these transportation options make it easier to get where we need to be when we need to be there. In an effort to try to combat this when I travel, I have been trying to change how I travel. When possible, I try to get direct flights. This can be expensive, though it eliminates the need to rush from one flight to another. If I have to take multiple legs, I try to make sure I have a good amount of time between flights, when possible, so that I can walk where I need to go instead of some of the people mover options. This allows me to be able to stretch my legs between flights and get a little exercise as well.
Some other changes I have made. If stairs are available, I try to use those instead of escalators and elevators. This can be a little tiring depending upon the size of the hotel or the size of the airport. Then there are airports like LAX where you cannot get from one terminal to another without riding a bus. There are no other options available.
Another travel ease that is common are travel bags with wheels. They are great bags and can be very convenient. Why I have decided to not use them is that using a bag that I have to carry would allow my body carry the weight and thus get some exercise while traveling. I understand the arguments that shoulder bags or carrying bags in your hands can impact your spine and cause shoulder and back pain. This is for instances where people are trying to transport bags heavier than their bodies are comfortable carrying. So, if attempting to do this, you should already have a certain level of health and should be wise in packing in order to not cause more issues. I have transitioned to a duffel bag that I hang over my shoulders and carry across my body instead of just over my shoulder. I also, have learned to pack light. I only pack what I absolutely need. I have learned to live without some of my niceties that I can live without for a week at a time. I have noticed that transitioning to carry my bags on my body that I feel stronger and healthier when I arrive where I am going.
Outside of the actual travel the hardest part of traveling is the reduced opportunity to find exercise. It is true that many hotels have work out areas though most are not well maintained and are significantly limited. One of my favorite hotels in the Saint Paul, MN area that I stay in only has one treadmill and when I travel in the winter there are not much options for running out doors. Luckily, there are not many people that are at that hotel at the times I travel so I have not run into conflicts with other using the machines when I wanted to. When staying at other hotels, on the other hand, I have run into this situation. Which makes things hard. I do have a membership at a national Gym chain, but it so happens, that this membership does not have any facilities in the area that I travel to the most. This makes it hard. So, what do you do when it is below zero, snowing and all of the machines are being occupied. Take into the account that most hotels have a time limit on when the facilities are open. Most are usually from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. Sometimes you can find a hotel that has 24 hours or open later or earlier. It is hard to find. This is why I tend to stay at the same hotels when traveling. This way it is easier to plan when I can exercise and have some degree of confidence on when others might be in the workout room. I try to schedule times when the workout rooms are least likely to have a lot of people. Usually, really early in the morning or really late at night seems to be the best time at most of the places I have attended.
The other aspect of managing health while traveling has to do with eating. Many times when traveling, especially for business, you are limited in your options for eating. Many hotels have all you can eat breakfasts, though what is available is not always the most healthy, or the healthy options do not look that great. It is also hard to exercise discipline in eating when you can eat as much as you want. When at airports, the dining options are limited and most are not all that healthy. In addition to this, the portions provided usually are more than a normal person should eat in a single meal.
Traveling for work has another negative affect in this regards. it is hard to exercise discipline when eating when someone else is paying. The decision of eating a 6 oz steak vs a 10 oz steak is harder to decide upon when you are not paying the bill. Attending conferences or trips where vendors are paying the bills is even harder. In those situations there is food every where and without thinking about it you have eaten your way from one side of the room to the other. If you are of the disposition of drinking alcohol this is even more difficult. It seems that most of my business meetings revolve around "getting drinks". These "meetings" can last for hours and involve many drinks along the way.
I do not know if I have any wisdom here. What I try to do is try not to order food that I would not pay for if I were paying the bill. This helps me to keep the amount and portions of food down. I am not always as disciplined in this regards, though it has helped lessen the impact on my health on my trips. I also, try to drink more water than my favorite drink, which happens to be Mountain Dew. I figure that if I drink more water than other drinks that I will not have more room for the drinks that have the higher calories and health risks.
There are no secret answers or "one-size-fits-all" solutions that can work for everyone. When it comes down to it, what matters is having the desire to be healthier, planning out the trip to find time for exercise, and find ways to increase your opportunity for discipline (for example if you are like me and have a weakness for mountain dew, don't eat at a place that service it).