Staying Fit on the Road
How to maintain your health and sanity while traveling for work
I travel fairly frequently for work, and it can be brutal. We’re talking long days, little sleep, subpar food and lots of sitting…not to mention flying, which just generally makes me feel crummy. Over the years, though, I’ve developed a few strategies for staying healthy on the road.
Why flying is a little like climbing a mountain
First though, since we love science here at Practically Fit, I was curious about the physiological effects of travel, and air travel in particular. As it turns out, the exhaustion you feel after a long flight doesn’t just come from sitting in a cramped seat eating pretzels and trying to avoid awkward small talk.
Flying induces something called “hypobaric hypoxia,” otherwise known as altitude sickness. This is because commercial jets are pressurized to between 6,000 to 8,000 feet of altitude. While this is enough to keep most of us comfortable, it can still cause some mild discomfort, especially for people particularly sensitive to altitude (that would be me).
A 2017 article in the International Journal of Molecular Science found that just 30 minutes of hypobaric hypoxia similar to what you would experience in an airplane causes alterations in the immune system, haemostasis (blood flow) and protein metabolism. Northwestern Medicine has a simple list of 10 Health Tips for Plane Travel that can help counteract some of these negative effects. Primary among them is drinking lots of water and maybe skipping that in-flight cocktail.
Practical tips for exercise and eating
So that covers the flight, but what about the rest of the trip? We all know that exercise can help boost your immune system and combat stress. But let’s face it, getting in a workout on the road can be a struggle, and healthy eating can be twice as hard. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but here are a few things that have worked for me:
Always pack workout clothes. The one time I didn’t bring my running shoes on a trip, I ended up on a beautiful college campus, with miles of paved running trails and great weather. On my way to get coffee, I was so envious seeing all the runners go by. Since then, I always pack my running shoes—even if I don’t get to run, they are great to slip on for the flight back or just walking around the airport or hotel.
Walking is your friend. Speaking of the airport, it’s a great place to walk! Unless you’re that daring individual who shows up 5 minutes before pre-board, you are going to be at the airport early anyway, so use that time to take a power walk through the terminal. Maybe you’ll even find some healthy food along the way.
Bring snacks…seriously. I must confess, I’m the world’s worst about this. I once endured a 10-hour flight from the U.K. with little more than a sad bag of currants. The plane was out of snack packs and inexplicably only fed us in the last few hours of the flight. By the time I landed, I was hungry enough to devour the next greasy fast-food meal I could find. If you’re traveling the conference circuit, packing healthy snacks is equally important, since you truly never know what may end up on your plate…especially if you’re vegetarian/vegan (I have SO many stories about this). Well+Good has some tips for healthy snacks to pack—from a cardiologist no less—if you need some ideas.
Every little bit counts. While we’re on the subject of snacks, try to work in some bite-size workout sessions.recently wrote about the benefits of "exercise snacking." On my most recent work trip, I was only able to squeeze in one short cardio/strength session at the hotel gym, but I worked in a few exercise “snacks” along the way, including some squats and wall pushups in my hotel room and some stair-climbing at the event location. I also brought my trusty jump rope along, but unfortunately, the ceiling of the hotel room was too low to use it (doh!).
Take it easy on yourself
As we were sitting in the airport noshing on the healthiest snacks we could find while waiting the flight home from a recent work trip, a colleague reminded me of the most important healthy travel tip, which is to give yourself some grace. Let’s face it: no matter how much you prepare, travel is always going to take you out of your routine, sap some of your energy and impact your healthy habits, and that’s OK.
While I do my best to stay healthy on work trips, I know I’m not going to be able to do it all or do it perfectly. Instead, I just try to do the best I can and look forward to getting back to my routine and perhaps even doubling down on eating healthy and exercising when I get back. As someone who likes to run long distances, I remind myself that healthy habits are a marathon and not a sprint.
If you travel often for work or pleasure, let us know how you stay healthy on the road.
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I would also add to try and research the airports and hotels you will be flying through and staying at- prepares you better for what might be there. Some airports have "yoga" rooms where you can get in some stretching or core work. You can see what food is available for purchase in the airport and knowing more about your hotel can help you plan better to bring the right type of exercise clothes (or even a swimsuit if there is a lap pool).