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All That Business Travel May Be Making You Physically and Mentally Sick, Study Says

Tour Of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.'s First Airbus A350-900Tour Of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd.'s First Airbus A350-900
Is business travel bad for your health?Justin Chin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Business travel is an inevitable hassle for millions of Americans. But it may literally be bad for your physical and mental health, according to a new study.

A team led by Andrew Rundle, a researcher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, examined electronic medical data records from EHE International, a corporate wellness program firm, to find any links between frequent business travel and chronic health conditions like those associated with obesity and diabetes.

Compared to people who traveled one to six days per month for work, individuals who traveled 21 nights or more were “more likely to: smoke… report trouble sleeping… be sedentary… and score above clinical thresholds for alcohol dependence, and mild or worse anxiety, and depression symptoms.”

While the results had a high degree of statistical significance, they could only imply correlation and not direct causation.

Rundle and company posited a number of theories as to why so much business travel may be linked all kinds of harmful health effects. “While many workplace health programs for business travel provide immunizations, information about avoiding food-borne illness, and alerts about civil or political unrest, few focus on a more a common threat to health: the stress, sleep interruption, unhealthy eating and drinking, and lack of exercise that are common side effects of being on the road,” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “Over the long-term, these issues can add up to chronic disease risks.”

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The researchers also presented a number of possible tactics to counteract travel’s wear and tear on the body and mind. For instance, employers could help guide their workers to housing that presents healthier food options and gyms, and provide them with better training on healthy ways to manage the stress of a domestic trip which don’t involve drinking or splurging on fatty foods.