Business travel: A health hazard?

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Tired of traveling so much for work? Next time your boss asks you to go on a sales trip, you’ll have a good reason to suggest a video conference instead: Business travel may be putting your health at risk.

According to a recent study of the medical records of more than 13,000 workers, those who traveled most often for work had, on average, a higher body-mass index, a higher cholesterol level and higher blood pressure — and therefore were at a greater risk for heart disease — than those who traveled less often.

The study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, found that people who traveled more than 20 times per month also perceived their health to be poorest — they were 260 percent more likely to rate their health as being fair to poor than light travelers.

While the study’s authors speculate that long, sedentary periods spent sitting in a car or on a plane, and poor food choices on the road contribute to these workers’ health risks, perhaps playing an even bigger role is the increased stress that business trips cause frequent travelers.

According to findings of the research published in the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine:”

“Business travel may have detrimental health consequences because it increases job strain … Be it because of travel delays or being placed under the schedule of the meeting, conference, or sales appointment the employee travels to, business travel often removes the control of the workday from the employee … Job strain has been shown to be significantly associated with cardiovascular disease risk factors such as higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Frequent business travel may also cause increased psychological stress. A study by the World Bank found an excess of insurance claims for stress related disorders among travelers, with increasing claims seen with increasing travel. A second World Bank study found that almost 75 percent of the staff reported high or very high stress related to business travel. Frequent flying and longer trips were associated with higher stress-related effects.”

Other interesting findings and statistics cited in the study include:

  • Frequent travelers are most likely to be male, and younger than those who traveled less frequently
  • Seventy-five percent of business trips are made to a location less than 250 miles away. More than 80 percent of business trips are made by car.
  • People who traveled occasionally for work were generally healthier than those who didn’t travel at all.
  • Frequent international business travel is also associated with higher alcohol consumption.

Do you travel for work a lot? What do you do to stay healthy? Let us know in the comments section, below.

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