Experts wave red flags about health harms tied to road warriors’ hard travels

jet-300x154Tens of thousands of Americans will hit the skies in the next few days, struggling to squeeze in that last bit of business before the holidays shut down 2017 opportunities. Are these business travelers harming their own health?

The New York Times has put up an interesting report on the ubiquity and stress of business-required travel, arguing that jet-setting for work not only has lost whatever glamor it once may have held but also that experts increasingly are worried about the health toll it inflicts.

The paper, noting that more formal research needs to done, cites studies showing that “frequent business travel accelerates aging and increases the likelihood of suffering a stroke or heart attack, and that more than 70 percent of business travelers report some symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle, including poor diet, lack of exercise, excess drinking, stress, mood swings and gastrointestinal problems.”

Those who travel often not only suffer ravages of extensive exposure to viruses and other illnesses and funky airplane air as well as jet lag, they also pack on the pounds and raise their bad cholesterol levels. Some initial study has shown that “the average body mass index of travelers who are on the road 21 or more nights a month was higher than in travelers who were away from home one to six nights per month. For a 6-foot-tall person, the difference amounted to a 10-pound difference in weight.”

Experts quoted by the New York Times noted that younger corporate types may be able to shrug off the negatives associated with work-required travel. But it catches up with men and women as they age.

And where travel once was almost a perk for executives, companies now push much lower ranking staff on the road—and they don’t get luxe accommodations nor needed life supports when they’re away from home. Their per diem may cover only bad fast food, and that business basic hotel may not let them get a good night’s sleep or exercise in anything that resembles a suitable health facility or gym.

Even short hops out of town can disrupt employees’ personal lives, creating huge stresses on them as they juggle family and other crucial outside commitments while trying to please bosses and be good corporate soldiers, amiable enough to rise in the ranks and to earn more.

Phyllis Kozarsky, a professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and the medical director of TravelWell, a clinic in Atlanta for international travelers, told the New York Times that extensive travel can become crushing for road warriors:

A lot of times, I’ll have people come in and say, ‘I was in so-and-so country, and I think I have a sinus infection.’ Then when I close the door to the exam room, they’ll burst out crying. They made the appointment ostensibly for a sinus infection, but they’re so tired and worn out from traveling that they just need to see someone and talk about it. They don’t want to share it with their business because they’re concerned about walking up the corporate ladder and their ability to succeed.

In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, and it should be a major concern for corporate leaders to invest in their people and protect their health—not damage it. Organizations spend big sums on dubious, outright sketchy workplace wellness programs. Maybe some of that money could diverted to bettering the health and well-being of staff forced on to the road or figuring ways—especially through developing technologies like online conferencing—to keep workers at home.

For those who must hit the road, regularly and especially during the holiday season, breathe, try to find quality time to boost your health, well-being, and contact with family and friends at home. You may wish to consider some expert tips, too, on staying well while flying a lot.

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