You know that constant travel often means lots of jet lag and a few missed gym sessions. But the health toll of frequent business travel can actually be much higher than just tiredness and sniffles caught from fellow passengers. Constant airplane travel can increase your risk of obesity, harm your immune system, and even speed up aging (yes, really).
Of course, there are plenty of obvious steps you can take to reduce the harm of the road warrior lifestyle like resisting the pull of junk food, sleeping more, and keeping to an exercise routine. But if actually following these common sense guidelines were simple, we'd all be doing it already.
Like many business travelers, you probably don't follow this sort of advice as often as you should. Why is that? And what can you do to increase your willpower and better resist the temptations of the road? On HBR recently, CEO, leadership coach, and lifelong frequent flyer Peter Bregman suggested that the problem (and the solution) is the mindset you bring to your business travel.
Travel like an athlete
Bregman has always traveled a lot, he writes, but all those airplanes didn't used to affect him as much. "I used to be a ski racer. On our way to competitions, we traveled in much less comfort than I do now, but I experienced a lot less wear and tear as a result. That's in part because I was younger and more resilient, but much of it was the way I traveled back then," he explains.
What did he do differently in his ski racer days? "As an athlete, my travel regimen started three to five days before my race trip. I made sure that I slept at least eight hours each night. I ate consciously, exercised moderately, and meditated religiously. I drank lots of water, but no alcohol," he writes. He also arrived early before events to relax and prepare.
Let me guess, as a business traveler, your pre-flight regime probably consists not of ample meditation, hydration, and sleep, but instead of frantic late nights of work, hastily grabbed snack food, and even a pre- (or in-) flight cocktail or two. And you probably spend as little time on the ground at your destination as possible.
Reminder: business travel isn't a special occasion
It's easy enough to remedy these on-the-road lifestyle choices in theory, but Bregman knows from personal experience that's often easier said than done in practice. Why? Business travelers are prone to falling into what he terms the "special occasion trap."
"How often, we say to ourselves, do I meet with these colleagues? The dinner is so lavish, the wine so good! I shouldn't hold back. It's just this time. That's reasonable if you travel once or twice a year. But for many of us, these special occasions come around a few times a month or more. It's easy for 'special occasions' to morph into a regular and unsustainable lifestyle," he cautions.
What's his bottom line trick to keep constant travel from ruining your health? Remind yourself that it is, in fact, constant, and that you need to think like an athlete, not a holiday maker.
"When I was a skier, travel meant more discipline... Once I realized that the key to traveling like an athlete is having the discipline of an athlete, I started to change my behavior," concludes Bregman. Now he's more able to resist that late night cookie or excessive glass of wine.
Would 'thinking like an athlete' help keep you on the business travel straight and narrow too?