On the Road Again? Make Room for Movement in Your Schedule

Research suggests that frequent business travel might affect our immune systems, our stress responses and the way we age. Because the stress of business travel affects wellness in numerous ways, we need a multifaceted approach to mitigate these effects.

In this second part of our series on wellness and business travel, we focus on exercise, exploring the why's and how's of incorporating physical activity into your work trips. These tips, backed by science, will help you take control of the aging process, strengthen your immune system and relieve a great deal of your travel-related stress.

Walk As Much As You Can

“Walking is a superfood,” says Katy Bowman, a biomechanist and the author of Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement. “It’s the defining movement of a human. It’s a lot easier to get movement than it is to get exercise.”

When you’re traveling, walking is easier to fit into your schedule than any other type of exercise. For example, at the airport you have ample walking opportunities. You can walk to the gate and skip the moving sidewalk. And you can walk around the shops rather than sitting at the boarding gate. Upon arrival at your destination, if you have time, you can get in some sightseeing by walking around.

Sebastien Dupéré, CEO of steam cleaner manufacturer Dupray, recommends not booking a hotel near the conference center or office—this will help create more opportunities for walking. “Most business travelers stay in hotels that are fairly close to where they need to be,” he says. “Why not find a hotel that is two or three miles away? That walk can be accomplished in 30 minutes, and it is an absolutely magnificent way to stay fit.”

In fact, we’ll see below how walking has all kinds of health benefits beyond simply making a business trip more enjoyable. As Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas Frieden, says, walking is "the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”

Walking and Our Lifespans

In exploring the benefits of brisk walks on potential human life span, researchers from Saarland University in Germany concluded that walking briskly for 25 minutes a day can add several years to an individual’s life. During their studies they found observable changes at the cellular level—in the telomeres. In fact, their research showed that six months of this kind of daily brisk walking was enough to slow telomere loss.

Christi Deaton at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine suggests that this study “helps us understand the process of cellular ageing as that’s what drives our organ system and body ageing, and the effects physical activity can have on the cellular level. The more active you are, and it doesn’t matter when you start, the more benefit you are going to have."

Walking and the Immune System

These cell-level benefits have all kinds of ripple effects.

For example, Suzi Hong and her research team at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system and produce an anti-inflammatory cellular response.

Another study, published by David C. Nieman at Appalachian State University and his team, found that people who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, had 43 percent fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. Among that study’s 1,000 participants, those who walked regularly also experienced shorter periods of illness with milder symptoms.

Walking and Stress Relief

According to researchers at Princeton University, brisk walking and running can activate soothing neurons in the hippocampus, reducing the response to stress. Similarly, a study out of Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education suggests that the acute effects of exercising include a reduction in anxiety after only one walk.

Brisk walking also helps with stress eating. Researchers from the University of Innsbruck have found that even a quick 15-minute walk reduces the urge for sugary snacks in response to stressful situations.

In other words, you can fight off the urge to snack if you simply replace that 20-minute wait at the gate with a walk around the duty-free shops.

Do Short, Intense Exercises in your Hotel

It’s true that business trips can be overwhelmingly packed with meetings and conferences, but there is always room to squeeze in a few minutes of movement each day. The good news? You don’t more time than that.

Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, oversaw a study about the potential benefits of going all-out for just a minute of exercise. This hyper-efficient method of working out, the study suggests, could have the same benefits as 45 minutes of moderate exercise.

Getting in short sessions of high-energy, all-out exercise is known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT has been popular among fitness experts and scientists for a while. According to Dr. Arnt Erik Tjonna—who co-wrote a paper on intensive endurance training—just 4 minutes of strenuous exercise can build as much muscle and cardiovascular endurance as 90 minutes of moderate exercise.

These exercises fold pretty easily into a business trip’s schedule. For example, you can race up the stairs instead of taking the elevator in your hotel. And if there is a gym or a swimming pool, you can find 4 minutes somewhere to squeeze in a workout.

One of the most well-known HIIT plans is the seven-minute workout, first published in the Health & Fitness Journal in 2013. The workout features a sequence of 12 exercises; you perform each for 30 seconds with a 10-second in between. The only prop you need to perform the exercises is a chair.

For easy reference, you can follow this infographic, which lays out the exercises and precise timing.

Make Time for Some Yoga

It’s well established that practicing yoga helps the body to manage stress. Moreover, certain types of yoga and specific poses can help increase muscle strength and flexibility.

According to a study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, the Sun Salutation pose can help to improve muscle strength, general body endurance and body composition. Another study, published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found similar benefits from the practice of Hatha yoga.

There is also evidence—demonstrated in studies in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research and in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology—that practicing yoga can help protect individuals from inflammatory diseases and reduce inflammatory signals.

All in all, “traveling takes a toll on your mind and body,” says Jamie Kent, the founder of Yoga Download. “We don’t always eat well on the road, we keep weird hours, it’s hard on the immune system, and it can be mentally taxing. Yoga can be a great way to restore balance.”

You can integrate yoga sessions easily into your travel. A small yoga mat can fold into a carry-on bag, and some hotels offer space for yoga practice. In a pinch, you can always lay down a towel to get your practice in.

There are plenty of great yoga apps, too:

Better yet, you can learn some poses by heart. Yoga practitioner Kirsty Gallagher advises travelers to plan a simple, go-to yoga sequence. “Have either noted down, committed to memory or even recorded somewhere a few simple practice routines that you can always go to,” she says.

Stand Up and Stretch

While yoga sessions often contain many stretches to relax your body and build up your strength, the simple act of standing up and stretching also helps.

And stretching in public is more socially acceptable than a Sun Salutation.

“The easiest thing you can do where you won't look like a complete freak is stretch," says Jennipher Walters, founder of the Fit Bottomed Girls. "We all carry so much tension in our shoulders and upper back from being hunched over a computer or sitting on a plane."

When you have five minutes between seminars or are on the way to the restroom, do some basic stretches such as rolling your neck gently, rounding your back and twisting your upper torso. Remember to take deep breaths while doing so.

Also, look for any opportunity to stand throughout the day. According to fitness expert Roger Frampton and his fantastic TED talk, standing up can help strengthen your core, increase mobility and relieve back pain.

Planning Ahead for Your Trip

Finally, you can make your trip a little easier by planning your exercises in advance. This doesn’t have to be an intense plan. Just make sure you have a few essentials in your travel bag:

  • Walking shoes
  • Exercise clothing
  • Swimsuit
  • Light yoga mat
  • Resistance band for stretch exercises

If you can, book a hotel with a gym or a swimming pool. A yoga room would be a bonus. Also, try to opt for a hotel that’s about a 30-minute walk to where you need to go for work.

Combined with a dedicated effort to eat well and the right choice of supplements, a little exercise every day can help you ward off the adverse effects of business travel.

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