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George Clooney plays a business traveller who lives out of a suitcase, in a scene from "Up in the Air." (Dale Robinette/AP)
George Clooney plays a business traveller who lives out of a suitcase, in a scene from "Up in the Air." (Dale Robinette/AP)

See the world – and risk your health Add to ...

Clive Veroni is a road warrior. The founder of Leap Consulting travels throughout North America two or three days a week almost every week. Like George Clooney's character in Up in the Air, Mr. Veroni has packing down to a fine art, takes only carry-on luggage and can valet park his car at the airport and be sitting in the lounge within 10 minutes. He might be efficient when it comes to travel, but all that frequent flying still takes a toll.

“It's exhausting,” the Toronto-based Mr. Veroni says. “If I travel to Michigan, it's a one-hour plane ride, but my journey door to door takes six hours. That gets very tiring even though you're not doing anything – you're sitting in an airport, sitting on an airplane, and sitting in a car. But by the end of six hours you're spent, and then you have to go to work and perform.”

Add to the mix a lack of healthy food at most airports, plus a schedule that leaves little or no time for exercise, and it's no wonder Mr. Veroni and business people like him find themselves feeling worn out.

Research shows that those who travel for work week after week are at risk of several negative health effects.

Public-health experts at Columbia University in New York found extensive travel to be linked with poor self-rated health, higher body-mass index and worse clinical examination results compared with light travel. In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine last year, it noted that other research has associated extensive business travel with high-calorie meal consumption, alcohol consumption, sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular-disease risk factors.

“Frequent travel is disruptive to people's health, there's no doubt about it,” says Gio Miletto, a medical director of the British Columbia-wide Travel Medicine and Vaccination Centre. “For people who are crossing time zones, it's disruptive to their body clock. There are natural rhythms and changes in our blood pressure and body temperature during a 24-hour period. Your bowels move at different times of day and night. Different hormones are secreted at certain times of day and night. When you go into different time zones, it's all out of whack.”

As Mr. Veroni can attest, jet lag is just one factor he has to contend with; lack of routine is another. When he's at home, he works out regularly and eats a wholesome diet that's low in fat and red meat. Doing the same while travelling isn't as simple.

“If I were to pack a pair of gym shoes in my carry-on bag, half the space would be gone,” he says. “I noticed at the Westin in Calgary you could get gym gear brought to your room. Presumably this is gear that other people have borrowed, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

“Diet is also very problematic,” he adds. “You can be in a small town in America and order grilled chicken with salad. It will arrive with candied nuts, piles of cheese, and lots of dressing. And airports are the worst place for healthy food. There have been times when I've been so hungry I've eaten dinner out of a vending machine.”

Then there's alcohol, which is high in calories, dehydrating and can have long-term health risks.

“It's easy to drink a lot,” says Dr. Miletto, who travels regularly to Britain, where he's the host of a TV show called Food Hospital. “In business class they tend to throw alcohol at you, and when you're sitting waiting for an aircraft there's always booze available.”

However, there are several strategies people can adopt to avoid feeling depleted when circling the globe.

For starters, when crossing multiple time zones, avoid scheduling meetings that take place during what would be the middle of the night at home, Dr. Miletto suggests. For shorter trips, he advises trying to stay on your own time as much as possible.

Melatonin can be effective in some people to deal with the effects of jet lag, Dr. Miletto says, but its use is controversial. Many people opt to take sleeping pills, but he cautions that these don't cure jet lag either.

“It never ceases to amaze me, the things you're able to buy for jet lag,” Dr. Miletto says. “Products that claim to cure jet lag are absolute nonsense. Pressure bandages don't work. Sleeping tablets can be helpful, but a lot of people get a hangover effect so they're not as sharp the next day. You need to use them judiciously. Plus because you're sedated, you're not moving, which can increase the risk of DVT [deep-vein thrombosis].”

If possible, reset the body clock by shifting the timing of sleep to one or two hours later for a few days before travelling westward and one or two hours earlier for a few days before heading eastward.

Getting any form of exercise and eating well are always a no-brainer. Consider using the farthest washroom to get some walking in, ordering dressings and sauces on the side, and bringing your own food for the plane.

Many people complain of getting a cold after coming home from a trip. Dr. Miletto says catching a virus is often the result of being exposed to foreign organisms.

“Every part of the world has its own kind of bugs and you're suddenly exposed to whole new set; it's kind of like a kid starting school in a new environment. If I've been in Vancouver for a month then land in Hong Kong, I'm exposed to all kinds of things I'm not used to being around. The stress of travel probably contributes as well.”

The authors of the Columbia study into health effects of frequent business travel suggested that corporations consider reimbursement incentives for healthy eating, hotel selection based on fitness facilities and employee stress-management programs.

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