If you just go by Facebook, frequent travel seems great. You’re just sitting at your desk pounding through your work, and there’s your old college roommate checking in to a lux Tokyo hotel or a picture of your cousin smiling somewhere exotic with an umbrella drink in her hand. Make it business travel where your company is footing the bill, you often don’t have to cram into economy class, and you can escape the day-to-day drudgeries of office life, and those pictures can seem even more enticing.
But beware. According to a new study out of the UK’s University of Surrey that rounds up previous research on frequent flyers, business travel has some serious downsides--your body and mind often end up paying a steep price for that impressive looking social media feed.
"A man in a sharp suit, reclining in a leather chair, laptop open in front of him, a smiley stewardess serving a scotch and soda. This is often the image of travel, particularly business travel portrayed in TV ads and glossy magazines. But there is a dark side to this ‘glamorised’ hypermobile lifestyle that the media, and society ignores," lead author Dr Scott Cohen explains.
1. You’ll age faster
You’re not travelling at warp speed to a galaxy far, far away, so how can hopping on a couple of flights to Asia or Europe a month impact how fast you age? "Frequent flying can lead to chronic jet lag, which… has been linked in studies to disrupting gene expression that influences aging," Cohen told Fast Company.
2. You’ll be exposed to more radiation than a nuclear power worker
"Those who fly far and frequently are also exposed to high amounts of radiation, with one study showing that commercial air crew's having more exposure than nuclear power workers," notes Newsweek’s writeup of the study. If you travel round trip from New York to Tokyo seven times a year or the equivalent, you’ve probably exceeded official radiation limits.
3. Your immune system will be weaker
Being in close proximity to all your germy fellow travelers can’t be great for your health, but it’s actually what jet lag's effect on your immune system that’s more likely to get you sick. Travel-related exhaustion "can even switch off genes that are linked to the immune system," Cohen writes in the research.
4. You’ll probably be fatter
It’s hard to hit the gym when you’re always hustling to catch a plane (or recovering from a tiring trip). Plus, plane and airport food isn’t known for its healthfulness (and all those mini alcoholic drinks do add up), so it’ll come as no huge surprise to you that frequent travelers are prone to obesity. Though simple countermeasures like packing healthy snacks and making sure to work out on the road can limit the negative effects of being a road warrior.
5. You’ll be more stressed
Racking up frequent flyer miles isn’t just rough on your body, it’s rough on your mind as well, Cohen argues. "The disruption of the circadian rhythm from jet lag affects mood, judgment, and concentration for up to six days," Cohen notes. No wonder then that one study found World Bank employees who travelled frequently made three times more claims to their medical insurance for psychological issues compared to colleagues who didn’t travel.
6. You could damage your relationships
"Relationships with family, friends and community can also end up damaged by excessive travel," Newsweek reports. "One study found that a child’s behavior can worsen when a parent spends extended periods of time away for business travel. Other research showed that frequent trips create an imbalance in domestic duties and child care. Since men constitute a majority of business travelers, that most often ends up creating additional domestic burdens for women."
7. Your memory could suffer
It takes a lot of trips over a long period of time, but if you travel far enough long enough, you might just end up hurting your memory. Jet lag "in its chronic form as demonstrated by a study on cabin crew, cause cognitive deficits like memory impairment," Newsweek also notes.
Are you still jealous of that jet-setting Facebook friend?