Like many great discoveries, the inspiration for Andrew Rundle's study about the relationship between business travel and health was his own life.
Rundle, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, was in a North Carolina Research Triangle hotel that had no restaurant or gym but did offer the opportunity for low-nutrition, high-fat meals to be delivered to his room.
"I realized it can be hard to have good, healthy behavior while traveling," Rundle said, adding that the challenges present themselves every step of the way — from the airport to the conference to the hotel.
Rundle also works with EHE International, which develops corporate wellness programs, and that granted him access to data on thousands of workers (names redacted) that would disclose the relationship between business travel and health.
Rundle and Columbia epidemiology student Catherine Richards crunched the data of 13,000 American business travelers for a one-year period. The numbers showed that the healthiest people were those who travel for work one to six days a month; as travel increased, so did obesity and body-mass index.
Self-rated health, on a scale of excellent, good, fair and poor (which Rundle said is an accurate diagnostic tool for life expectancy), also declined with the greatest road warriors.
The least healthy people were those who traveled the most and those who didn't travel at all (Rundle speculates that the latter is a result of unhealthy people not traveling).
He was not able to study dietary and exercise behaviors of subjects on the road but explained that his results should inspire employers, employees and hotels to make business travel less toxic.
"I always try to go to the gym at the hotel on business travel, but I have to force myself, because it's not part of my usual routine," he said. "But quite frankly, I find that hotel gyms a re not very good."
He doesn't want to warn people away from business travel, which can be linked to promotions and higher incomes; road warriors just need to make an effort to travel healthier.
Options include companies tutoring employees on healthy travel, contracting with hotels that emphasize health, offering stress management programs and, of course, encouraging employees to take the initiative, he said.
HANG ON TO HEALTH
Andrew Rundle and Catherine Richards' tips for healthier business travel:
Eat healthfully — Sounds obvious, but consider healthy portion size, especially in restaurants. Focus on fruits and vegetables, even in restaurants. Bring healthy snacks from home, such as celery, carrots or almonds.
Exercise — Use the hotel gym. Go for a run in the morning. Do push-ups and sit-ups in your hotel room, and use the water bottles as weights. Incorporate exercise into your day. Take the stairs instead of elevators and escalators.
Shop wisely for your hotel and restaurants — More hotels are emphasizing healthier living: Hotel Monaco in Portland, Ore., has a "jogging concierge" who leads guests on morning runs. Others have top-notch workout rooms and offer healthy restaurants.
Get enough sleep — Research indicates that lack of sleep leads to eating energy-dense foods, which are higher in sugar, salt and fat.