While travelling the world for business might sound exciting in theory, the reality is often decidedly less glamorous. Frequent business travel, especially over long distances, comes with health risks.
Fortunately, simply knowing the most common risks and making a proactive plan can help you minimize or avoid them — so we asked some experts to help you do just that. Here are 4 main health risks to watch out for while travelling on business:
1. Deep vein thrombosis
Frequently taking flights longer than 6 hours may pose a health risk. Those longer flights increase your risk of deep vein thrombosis, a condition that develops when blood clots form in your veins — usually the veins in your legs – due to extended inactivity. If a piece of the clot breaks off, it can travel to your lungs, potentially blocking blood flow and causing a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.
The best way to lower your risk is to get moving, recommends Dr. Jay Keystone, director of travel medicine at Medisys Travel Health Clinic in Toronto and Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. “Walk around during your flight,” he says. “Or do leg exercises in your seat.” Flex your feet then point your toes, holding each position for a few seconds, and lean forward in your seat to stretch your hamstrings.
Wearing cotton compression socks or stockings during your flight can also help lower your risk, explains Keystone.
2. Traveller’s diarrhea
Traveling the world means getting acquainted with new cultures. But you may also become acquainted with new germs and parasites, including ones with less-than-pleasant effects on your digestion. And good intentions around following travel food safety basics — avoiding tap water, ice cubes, peeled fruits and salads — might not be enough. “97% of travelers make a food or beverage error within 72 hours of arrival,” says Keystone.
Taking an oral vaccine – such as Dukoral before travel or Travelan during your trip – may help protect you against enterotoxigenic E. coli, the bug most frequently linked to traveller’s diarrhea, says Keystone. Over-the-counter tablets containing bismuth subsalicylate, such as Pepto-Bismol, may offer additional protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re travelling to a developing country — especially one with high levels of drug resistance, such as certain spots in Southeast Asia — check Health Canada’s travel health notices and consult a travel medicine specialist to develop a prevention and self-treatment plan well before you leave.
3. Poor sleep
Jet lag, shifting work schedules and sleeping in an unfamiliar bed and hotel room can sabotage your sleep. Prescription sleep aids like zolpidem might help, but they have drawbacks. “Zolpidem can affect your memory,” says Keystone. “[Business travellers] take it, go to a meeting, and then they can’t remember what happened there.”
If you’re headed to a destination 3 or more time zones east of home, try adjusting your sleep schedule to your destination’s time zone a few days before your trip, recommends Keystone, and sleep on the local schedule as soon as you arrive. Take a stroll in the sun between meetings to help reset your internal clock. And if you’re still struggling, talk to your doctor about supplements, like melatonin, that may help.
4. Unhealthy eating
Even if you’re generally a healthy eater at home, your good habits might falter on business trips. “When you’re travelling, the readily available food choices tend to be less healthy. You’re eating out more, exposing you to larger portions,” says Calgary-based registered dietitian Kristyn Hall, a national spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada and owner of Energize Nutrition. “It can be difficult to find choices higher in vegetables and fruits to eat throughout the day, especially after hours.”
Keep your health on track by making a proactive nutrition plan, says Hall. Ask for a half-portion or set aside some of your entree at restaurants, and request that higher-calorie ingredients — like the dressing, nuts and cheese on your salad — be served on the side. Decide in advance if you plan to drink, knowing that alcohol adds empty calories. If you do opt to drink alcohol, stay within the safe intake guidelines of no more than 1 drink daily for women and no more than 2 drinks daily for men, she recommends.
Knowing and reducing your risks before you travel can help ensure a safe return. Talk to your employer about whether visiting a travel medicine specialist and dietitian is part of your workplace health benefits package, to help you stay healthy on the road.