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How Constant Business Travel Affects Health

Business travel is a little like poking a sleeping cat. There’s a risk of being scratched up or having to run really fast. Even otherwise uneventful business trips can hold hidden perils. In particular, health may quietly suffer.

Constricted Movement

The human body doesn’t do well when cooped up for long periods of time with little motion allowed. Regrettably, this describes much business travel. Seeking to maximize revenue, most airlines focus on commuter jets designed to pack many people into as little space as possible without actually stacking them like sardines.

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Business Travel

The vehicles used for long-distance bus lines typically offer limited space to travelers, and outside of luxurious first-class accommodations, train seats tend to mirror the stinginess of most airline seats. Personal automobiles, which account for 81 percent of all business travel, afford more flexibility but may still impose constrained quarters on drivers and passengers for many hours on end. These cramped environments discourage movement, leading to a higher risk of blood clots and other health problems.

Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

Especially busy travelers appear to incur a greater risk of significant long-term health effects. A 2011 study of the medical records of 13,000 individuals made by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health showed a greater incidence of obesity, unhealthy cholesterol levels and higher blood pressure for those who ventured forth into the world on business trips 20 or more nights out of each month. The heavy travelers, who represented one percent of all employees considered by the study, tended strongly to consider themselves less healthy than light travelers. Medical researchers consider such self-evaluations to be simple but remarkably predictive indicators for future hospitalization and mortality rates.

Non-travelers also considered themselves to be less healthy, showing poorer results overall than light travelers for obesity, cholesterol (low HDL) levels and blood pressure (high diastolic BP).

Light travelers, defined as the nearly 80 percent of study participants who habitually left company premises for other climes between 1 to 6 nights a month, exhibited better medical markers and rated their health statuses as being more robust than those of either non-travelers or heavy travelers. Researchers are uncertain of the explanation for this peculiarity, although they have conjectured that healthier employees are more likely to accept job responsibilities requiring travel. Light travelers don’t travel to such an extent causing the deleterious effects found in heavy travelers.

Risk of Blood Clots (Venous Thrombosis)

A large study of about 1,900 first-time patients suffering from venous thromboses, conducted by Netherlands researchers, found that a heightened risk of dangerous blood clots stalked people who exceeded 4 hours of travel over the 8 weeks prior to developing thrombosis. Travel generally doubled the likelihood of this medical condition, with the first week of travel bringing the greatest risk. In case of car, bus, or train travel the likelihood of developing a thrombosis increased 8-fold for patients with a specific genetic mutation (Factor V Leiden) associated with clotting, 4-fold for patients taller than 1.9 meters, and 20-fold for those using oral contraceptives. And, 10-fold for those who had BMI of more than 30 kg/m2. The highest risk for some individuals with special conditions arose from air travel, possibly because of greater immobility relative to other modes of travel.

Business Summary

Business representatives who routinely zip around the country at the behest of their companies need not necessarily attract the Grim Reaper as a traveling companion. The potential fallout from extended, forced inactivity may be addressed by simple measures such as occasional stretching and shifting within the confines of seating, thus avoiding medical complications likely to end in a hospital visit. Longer-term physical deterioration from lack of exercise can be ameliorated by greater attention to opportunities for walking to nearby destinations instead of taking cabs and for climbing stairs instead of riding elevators or escalators.

  • References
    • 1.Richards, Catherine A., and Andrew G. Rundle. “Business Travel and Self-Rated Health, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 53.4 (2011): 358-63.PubMed. Web. <http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21436731>.
    • 2. Cannegieter, Suzanne C., Carine J. M. Doggen, Hans C. van Houwelingen, and Frits R. Rosendaal. “Travel-Related Venous Thrombosis: Results from a Large Population-Based Case Control Study (MEGA Study).” PLoS Medicine e300 3.8 (2006): 1206-207. Web.<http://plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030307>.

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