Airline travel is physically stressful. It disrupts sleep, slows circulation, and dehydrates the body. Lower-than-normal air pressure decreases oxygen intake, and the cabin’s recycled air and close confinement can spread germs. In addition, frequent air travel throws a wrench in the timing and quality of your regular activity and eating patterns.

TravelHealthBlogI’m a commercial airline pilot. I calculate I’ve been away from home 12 of the last 24 years. Those of us who spend a significant part of our lives in airports and hotels face real challenges when it comes to staying healthy. All you have to do is take a look at the road-weary business travelers trudging through the terminal to see the toll a life of constant travel can take. On the road, it is very easy to give in to the pressure and fatigue – grabbing fast food, maybe having an extra drink to help relax, and collapsing in front of the TV in the hotel room after a long, hard day: a dangerous pattern that will literally kill you if don’t pay attention.

I’m fortunate to enjoy exercise and healthy food, so they’ve become big priorities in my daily life, but even for me it takes commitment and planning to stay on track. For many, traveling healthy seems not worth the trouble. We use any change in environment or routine to justify poor habits. If this sounds like you, ask yourself these questions: Do I want more energy? Do I want lower medical bills? Do I want to feel good? Do my loved ones need me? Do I want to be a good example for my kids? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you do care, and making a few small changes in the way you travel can make a huge difference in how you feel on a daily basis.

The rigors of travel make it even more important that you protect your health. Especially for people travel long distances, across time zones. Staying in shape while traveling is not difficult, but it does require you to plan in advance when, where and how you are going to workout. That means, what to bring, where to go, how you are going to get there, and lastly, how you are going to nourish yourself after your workout. Here are a few planning tips that I’ve learned in my many years refining the art of living healthy on the road.

Tip #1: Avoid Airport Temptations
Want to feel crummy on the plane? Load up on a burger and fries right before the flight. Most airport food is precooked, over-processed and/or fried – not the best fuel under any circumstances. On a plane, you’re not burning a lot of calories, so why load up? When I’m headed out on a flight, I think about what my body really needs for the situation. First and foremost: water. When you are well hydrated, everything else is easier. Avoid alcohol. It dehydrates, disrupts sleep, and often leads to bad food choices. Gas containing organs expand at altitude, so foods that are gas forming (peanuts, beans, dairy, fried, fatty foods) may not be the best choices, especially if you are prone to bloating. Stay away from anything heavy or sweet, it’s just not worth it. My go-to list includes fruit, plain Greek yogurt, hardboiled eggs, cottage cheese, tuna or lean meat sandwiches, nuts, vegetables, dark green leafy salad, and Zumanna.

Tip #2: Be Choosy About Your Digs
Don’t settle for any hotel. Make a study of the hotels that have adequate exercise areas and good, healthy food. Or choose a hotel that’s conveniently located close to a gym or the YMCA. Many are not, so scope out how to get to the places that will serve your plan: healthy restaurants or stores, running trails or a park, a pool or stair master in the hotel itself. Ask the concierge for help, and learn where it is and is not safe to be. Don’t hesitate to walk or take a cab, hotel van, or even a hotel bike to find what you need. Make your health quest an adventure and you will develop a much envied travel style.

Tip #3: Move the Way that Suits You
After prolonged sitting, it’s good to get your circulation going. Walking is an easy way to get moving – it promotes bowel activity and helps reduce bloating. If you’re not in a hurry, avoid the conveyer belt and escalators on your way to baggage claim. Once you get to your hotel, step out for a bit! Running is a great way to exercise and see the neighborhood at the same time. If you are not a runner, there are health clubs in just about every city in the world. Sometimes the YMCA can be better than the local clubs, at a fraction of the price. Many hotels have at least a meager exercise room, so your plan might include weights, treadmill, and/or some laps in the pool. If you don’t like gyms or health clubs, bring a pilates or yoga DVD and play it from your laptop. Curves, Zumba, and Jazzercise are everywhere. Or just head out the door in your walking shoes and hotfoot it for an hour. Do anything to stretch your legs, break a sweat, and breathe deeply.

Tip#4: Just Do It. And Do It. And Do It.
The best way to stay on track is to constantly re-commit to your health goals, and follow your plan every time. Create a habit out of healthy traveling. Get support from friends, family and associates. Share your goals and report back when you return. Don’t leave any room for excuses. Plan your day around your workout. If you have to get up early, then do it. Most clubs open at 5 AM and close at 10 PM. You could plan to walk on the hotel treadmill for a few minutes each day and chances are you’ll stay for more. At the very least, get a room on an upper floor and commit to taking the stairs a few times a day. Write it down, check it off, congratulate yourself and do it again tomorrow.

Tip #5: Feel Great When you Get There
One of the best ways to acclimate your body’s sleep cycle is to exercise upon arrival. This works out the stress you’ve accumulated during your flight, gets the blood flowing to prevent blood clotting, and clears the mind for your upcoming meetings. Whether you have arrived in the morning or night, go for a short jog, swim, bike ride or walk and you will feel a hundred times better.

Tip#6: Always Plan for Success.
Remember – It’s all about planning: think ahead, envision where, how and when you will sleep, eat, and exercise BEFORE you go, and pack accordingly. Having a plan helps you stay on track, and gives you a sense of accomplishment.

One of best ways to be more productive, innovative and successful is by exercising and eating right. Not only will you be sharper, your colleagues and business associates will want to know how you do it. If you take care of yourself, it shows, and that is the kind of person businesses want to work with.

Photo Credit: Andy Polaine