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Editor’s Note:In “Hey, Health Coach,” Sarah Hays Coomer answers reader questions about the intersection of health and overall well-being. Have a question? Send her a message (and don’t forget to use a sleuthy pseudonym!).
Hey, Health Coach,
Now that the world has opened up again, I’m traveling for work almost as much as I was before. I got in some healthy routines during the pandemic with food and exercise, but when I take trips, it all falls apart. I want to travel smarter now. How can I stay healthy while traveling for work?
– Reluctant Jetsetter
Living in air-conditioned rooms with windows that barely open (and meeting rooms with no windows at all) is a drag. You’re not imagining how hard it is to keep healthy habits while in these spaces.
In studying thousands of de-identified health records to determine the impact of business travel on people’s health, the Harvard Business Review found people who spent at least 14 nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index (BMI) scores than those who spent only one to six nights a month away from home. What’s more, people who traveled more were significantly more likely to report clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence, a lack of physical activity or exercise, a smoking habit and trouble sleeping.
I could give you a list of exercises to do in your hotel room—dips on the desk chair, push-ups, squats and more. I could also offer a list of travel-friendly snacks, but it wouldn’t be very helpful if you can’t find the time to shop or figure out how to follow through with a new away-from-home snacking plan.
Anyone can Google “body weight exercises” or “healthy travel snacks” and get a tidy list of options, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking about. It sounds to me like you’re asking about planning, flexibility and motivation.
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You call yourself Reluctant Jetsetter, so I assume travel is simply part of the gig—non-negotiable. Maintaining your health while getting the job done is certainly a challenge, but you seem more determined than defeated. “I want to travel smarter now” is a decisive statement.
It sounds like the healthy activities you discovered during the pandemic made you feel a lot better. You want to keep them going on the road, but lack of time or access to clothing, equipment, classes, transportation or healthy foods make it difficult to stay on track. In fact, staying on track can feel nearly impossible when you’re consistently forced to veer off on various detours.
What if—instead of trying to stay on track—you maintain two separate tracks? You can’t recreate the exact routine you keep at home—and might drive yourself nuts trying to do so—but you can figure out your mobile version of being “on track.”
Once you’ve got that track established, you can switch gears whenever you like.
The pandemic was highly stressful for most of us, and yet, in the middle of it, you discovered (and maintained) a range of healthy habits. This tells me that you value taking care of your health, and you know how to do it. So, let’s establish what you’ve already figured out.
What core healthy routines did you start during the pandemic?
What changes made a noticeable difference? Include sleep, exercise, groceries, environment, bathing, downtime or anything else that helps you keep your balance—no matter how small.
Which of these routines are most essential?
If someone tried to take them away, you would get grumpy—fast.
What windows of time or supplies make those healthy choices easier?
Identify the reinforcements that help you stick with healthy routines. Without them, your routines might very well fall apart or simply drift away.
What’s the most frustrating part of how you feel on the road, and which core habits alleviate those feelings at home?
Sometimes building a remedy for a specific ailment is a good place to start. It gives you something concrete to work with. Of the essential routines above, which offer the most relief and/or require the least time or equipment?
What different healthy habits might be available on the road?
If you can’t do your usual at-home thing, what other activities or foods could be uniquely part of your business travel?
According to the American Council on Exercise, people should vary their exercise routines for two important reasons: to prevent boredom associated with doing the same workout over and over again, and to avoid reaching a plateau in physical performance and, thus, results.
The same is true of food options. Remember the adage about having a rainbow of foods on your plate? Variety keeps us healthy. If you need to change things up anyway, travel gives you an opportunity to play around with your options.
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What adapted routines could you try with the limited time or resources you have while traveling?
If yoga or spinning is your thing, what passes or apps might let you visit studios in different cities? If there’s no time for that, what natural resources or unique urban experiences exist in the places you’re visiting? What virtual options have you tried in the hotel or airport? What novel snacks, restaurants or exercise alternatives could become part of your travel identity?
I’m into hiking, so when I travel for work, I use the AllTrails app to identify trails, parks or city walks near where I’m staying. Brainstorm a little to see if you can find new ways to explore or sustain your energy on long travel days.
What do you absolutely need to keep your balance?
If healthy habits feel great at home, adapted versions could entice you to crave more nourishing options en route, even if the payoff isn’t exactly the same. Once you’ve dreamed up a few miniature or fresh ways to stretch or strengthen your body on those detours, you might find yourself looking forward to the alternative routine—even if it’s simply a guilt-free break from the norm.
You haven’t failed to take care of yourself on the road—the road keeps changing under you. To make it easier, you need tire chains, four-wheel drive, emergency snacks in the glove compartment and a big jug of water.
If work is boxing you in, this approach could get you plotting and scheming about how to reclaim the spaces in between work obligations to feed your well-being—or how to cut yourself some slack.
It isn’t a matter of success or failure. It’s about giving yourself options and the agency to swerve from one track to the other, as needed.
“Hey, Health Coach” is for informational purposes only and should not substitute for professional psychological or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your personal situation, health or medical condition.
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Sarah Hays Coomer is a Mayo Clinic and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, certified personal trainer and author based in Nashville, Tennessee. She has spent nearly 20 years helping individuals and groups build personalized systems to ease chronic stress with self-selected, concrete behavioral changes. She has contributed to many publications, spoken at organizations and universities nationwide, and written three books: The Habit Trip, Physical Disobedience and Lightness of Body and Mind. You can find her on her website, LinkedIn or Instagram.
Alena is a professional writer, editor and manager with a lifelong passion for helping others live well. She is also a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and a functional medicine certified health coach. She brings more than a decade of media experience to Forbes Health, with a keen focus on building content strategy, ensuring top content quality and empowering readers to make the best health and wellness decisions for themselves.