Wellness on the Road: Staying Healthy When Traveling for Business

Travelers usually spend so much time sitting - on a flight or behind the wheel of a rental car - and yet travel can leave them feeling completely worn out. The truth is that dehydration, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise and exposure to germs can all contribute to lower levels of wellness when traveling.

To stay healthy and alert on your next business trip, consider these tips:

Stay Hydrated

According to the Mayo Clinic, dry air can increase cold symptoms, cause cracked lips and dry skin, and aggravate other respiratory conditions. Did you know that recycled air on a flight can dehydrate you? On a three-hour flight, the human body can lose up to 1.5 quarts of water. Make sure you are replenishing the water you lose by either bringing a reusable water bottle that you can refill after security or asking a flight attendant for a glass of water instead of a cup of coffee. If you prefer sparkling water, you can typically ask for an entire soda can to keep you hydrated in the air.

The airplane cabin isn’t the only dry environment you’ll encounter when traveling. Hotel rooms, which tend to rely on in-room HVAC systems, can also be quite dry. A travel humidifier can give your skin and sinuses a bit of much-needed relief. Otherwise, packing moisturizing lotion, facial spray and lip balm in your carry-on can help you feel refreshed during your business trip.  

Avoid Alcohol and Salty Foods

Alcoholic drinks weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to cold germs. Research from Rutgers University found that even small amounts of alcohol can lower your immune system's ability to defend against illness. When you are on a plane, alcohol and sodium can worsen the impact of dehydration, leaving you with a headache or gastrointestinal discomfort. Since airlines usually serve alcohol and their foods tend to be higher in sodium, according to Men's Health magazine, consider eating a healthy meal before getting on the plane or pack your own snack to eat when you start to get hungry during your flight.

Protect Your Immune System

Human bodies don't naturally adapt well to the stress of jet lag. As a result, a trip that takes you several time zones away from home can wreak havoc on your health. To ensure you arrive at your destination fit for business, take steps to strengthen your immune system. 

Although the science is murky regarding if vitamins can make your immune system extra resilient to illness, taking a daily multivitamin or vitamin C in the weeks leading up to a trip can prevent a vitamin-deficient immune system from falling victim to illness, according to Harvard Medical School. In the same vein, a lack of sleep can also compromise immunity. If you know you'll be taking a red-eye flight, try to get to bed early the night before.

Reduce Your Stress Levels

45 percent of travelers worry about getting sick before they travel

From important meetings to missed connections, travel can put extra stress on your mind and body. Be kind to yourself as you travel, and you’ll be able to cope with any challenge that arises. In addition to eating well and getting quality sleep, do what you can to prepare for bumps along the road.

In times of extreme anxiety, practice controlled breathing or mindfulness exercises. Here’s an example: Breathe in through your nose for three seconds, pause, then breathe out through your mouth for three seconds. As you maintain this rhythm, notice what thoughts appear and imagine each one as a bubble floating before you. Then, pop the bubble and let that thought go. It’s okay if it comes back; just pop it again. The point of the exercise is not to completely clear your mind, but rather become more aware of what is causing your anxiety. If you prefer easier guided meditations, using apps like Headspace can help keep you stay centered and relaxed on the road.

Bring Your Fitness Routine with You

Despite traveling great distances, business trips typically require very little movement from travelers. From your front door to the hotel lobby, the most moving you actually do is likely in the airport.

Sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, even in the short term. Prepare for your trip by stretching and doing some light exercise in the weeks prior. On the flight, consider getting up and walking every few hours to get your blood flowing. When you arrive at your destination, resist the urge to spend your free time lounging around the hotel. Take advantage of gym facilities, practice yoga in your room or explore the local area by taking a walk.

Take Special Precautions When Traveling to Polluted Cities

If you travel for business to cities with heavy air pollution, it's important to take extra steps to protect yourself. According to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, air pollution in places like China have been associated with poor overall health as well as specific diseases.

Even if you are only in the city for a few days, consider wearing a face mask that has been approved to block PM2.5 particles, which can be especially damaging to your health. Additionally, wash your hands and face after spending significant time in polluted air to reduce any residual effects, and always stay hydrated to help your body eliminate any toxins.

Prepare for Cramped Airline Seats

It's not just your imagination - airline seats have been getting smaller. According to a Business Insider report, airlines have shrunk available leg room by as much as four inches since 1989. Likewise, the width of seats has shrunk by one to two inches, depending on the carrier. Not only does less space on planes mean travelers have less room to stretch out and get comfortable, it could be a safety hazard. The U.S. Senate is considering a bill passed by the House last month that gives the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the authority to set minimum pitch, width and length on airplane seats to ensure they are safe for passengers.

To make yourself more comfortable in the meantime until legislation is passed, consider investing in a neck pillow to reduce aches and strains as you catch some shut eye. In fact, a pillow can add to your comfort level in any seat, even when you’re waiting at the gate for your flight.

Consider Wearing Compression Socks

The more you travel by plane, the greater your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, a condition in which a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the leg, causing swelling, redness and pain. Left untreated, DVT can be life threatening. According to the Mayo Clinic, compression stockings reduce your chances of developing DVT by steadily squeezing your legs, helping the blood flow more efficiently. Many road warriors swear by compression socks to keep them comfortable, but if you don't want to go that route, make sure you are flexing your ankles every 30 minutes on your flight to help with circulation.

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