For tech leaders, travel can quickly become a way of life. It can also be detrimental to overall health. Here are some routines to mitigate the effects of long workdays and convenience food.
Business travel can be exciting, with interesting locations, new cultures and foods, late-night working sessions on an interesting project, and a break from the ordinary routine. However, the same things that make it exciting can often be detrimental to your health. Those vendor working sessions might be accompanied by bowls full of candy, and it's more likely that pizza and soda are served up during evening meetings than salads and sparkling water. Here are some tips for staying healthy as a travelling technology worker.
1. Forget all the trends and remember the math
There's a simple fact to avoiding weight gain on the road: if you consume more calories than your body needs, those calories ultimately are stored as fat. Whether the calories come from kale or Kit Kats, this is an incontrovertible rule of avoiding weight gain. There are certainly foods that are more nutrient rich, or make your body feel and perform better, but at the end of the day if your goal is to avoid weight gain you'll never escape the caloric math often abbreviated as CICO: calories in must equal calories out. If the left side of the equation is higher, you'll gain weight. If the right is higher, you'll lose weight.
A pound of fat stores about 3500 calories of energy, so something as simple as a half-dozen extra slices of pizza each month can add a dozen pounds a year, at a pace that's nearly imperceptible on the scale. Most of the trendy diets hide the fact that they're ultimately creating a calorie deficit, so rather than trying to cleanse or carb-count your way to avoiding weight gain, watch your calories and eat what you like rather than trying to force yourself into a monastic existence or diet of breadless bacon sandwiches that's not sustainable in the long run.
All our bodies are different, so key to determining your own caloric math is how many calories your body burns on a daily basis. There are abundant calculators on the web that can estimate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), which is essentially the number of calories you burn in 24 hours simply by existing. Eat less than this number, and you'll lose weight. Eat more, and you'll gain weight. It's as simple as that. The calculators fail to account for an individual's variances in metabolism, so use them as a starting point and adjust based on your results. The myriad fitness trackers can also help, since they'll use your heart rate to tweak your daily caloric consumption and provide a bit more accuracy in determining the calories out portion of the equation.
If you want to drop a few pounds with minimal fuss, reduce your caloric intake to 200-500 calories less than your daily requirement, the equivalent of a couple of cookies. As you embark on a weight loss routine, look for trends rather than individual data points. For some people, weighing in once a week helps identify trends and not get upset with daily results that can fluctuate wildly. For others, myself included, a weigh-in at the same time every morning allows you to see whether your weight is trending up or down. Apps and tools can help here as well.
SEE: Travel and business expense policy (Tech Pro Research)
2. Discover the power of exercise
Many people launch into an exercise routine to manage their weight, but it's difficult to exercise your way out of excess calories, unless you're an endurance athlete spending several hours working out. An hour of running or cycling is equivalent to a slice of pizza and a beer for most people. It takes three seconds to pass on that second helping versus an hour of exercising, so from a weight management perspective, eating is your best lever to regulate your caloric intake, although getting in a workout has other significant benefits as well.
Sitting in conference rooms, airplanes, and cars is certainly not the healthiest activity in the world, and exercise provides a means to loosen stiff joints, get some fresh air, and provide some "think time" during trips that are often packed with work-related activities.
Exercise also can help your mood. You may have heard of the "runner's high," or experienced a bit of euphoria yourself after a workout. It's not just a feeling; research shows that exercise triggers the brain to release various "feel good" chemicals, ranging from endorphins to activating the brain's endocannabinoid system, the latter being the same part of the brain that reacts to cannabis.
Running has long been my activity of choice. It can be performed almost anywhere in the world, requires minimal equipment beyond running shoes and exercise clothing, and lets you combine fitness with a form of tourism, assuming you run outside. I try to run in the mornings before work, and you'll often see a different side of a city as it prepares for the work day. Walking is similarly easy to accommodate, as are the myriad "bodyweight" exercises that let you do strength training with nothing more than your body. YouTube is loaded with video workouts that you can follow in the privacy of your hotel room. Whatever you do, find something you actually enjoy, start slowly and build up, and remember that your only competition is yourself: try to beat yesterday rather than shooting for an unattainable target that frustrates or injures you.
SEE: Time management tips for tech professionals (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
3. Find your tools
Thankfully, health and fitness technology has evolved quite a bit and can be a great help when traveling. Mobile apps like MyFitnessPal and Lose It! allow you to log your food intake and track the calories in side of the caloric equation, and also integrate with the various smart watches that can track your exercise and daily activity level, managing the calories out side.
If you're interested in technology and gadgets, you can easily go wild with smart watches that track everything from your stress level to swim times; bicycles that have almost as much technology as the space shuttle; and apps that capture, integrate, and analyze enough data to make a data scientist swoon. I love this aspect of health and fitness, and often will reward myself for achieving a weight loss or performance goal with a new gadget. Employers and insurance companies are catching on to the power of technology in this space, so check if your employer and insurance company offer a fitness subsidy of some sort. I've seen everything from cash for fitness tools and memberships, to free smartwatches, to discounts on insurance premiums. Also investigate travel-related policies. Some employers might provide a gym subsidy while you're traveling. I've used this to explore different fitness classes like yoga or spin cycling while on the road, providing an opportunity to interact with different folks, or even use as a team building activity for those who are interested.
Here are some of my favorite tools that I use or have used on a daily basis to manage my health and fitness while traveling:
- Couch to 5K: The quintessential plan to go from couch potato to completing your first 5K. I hated running for nearly 25 years, and this plan changed my life and served as a gateway to triathlon and a decade of running distances up to half marathon. There are dozens of apps, podcasts, and other tools built around C25K. Do know that you can repeat any workout that's challenging until it gets easier.
- BMR Calculator: Calculator to determine your basal metabolic rate, essentially how many calories you burn in 24 hours merely by existing.
- MyFitnessPal: My favorite app for tracking what I eat (the calories in side of the equation) as well as mapping to calories out. There's also a fun social aspect.
- Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale: For the technically inclined, I love this Wi-Fi scale. It uploads data to all my other apps and makes weight tracking easy.
- Travel Scale: It might be excessive, but I sometimes bring a scale when traveling, especially on longer trips. This is the smallest I've found. Do a side-by-side weigh-in with your usual scale, as various scales may be up to a pound different from each other.
- Garmin Fenix 5X: In my opinion, the ultimate fitness watch. Tracks everything from running, to skiing, to paddleboarding, to skydiving. Probably overkill for many, so check out other options from Apple Watch, to Android Wear, to Fitbit.
- Happy Scale: A visually appealing app that helps you set weight loss goals, identify trends, and calculate a moving average. If you weigh in daily, this app helps capture your trend and separate that from daily variances. If you're not on iOS or prefer another app, look for one that calculates a moving average from your weight. With a bit of setup, this integrates with most Wi-Fi scales.
- The 7 Minute Workout: A workout routine (and series of apps) that uses nothing more than your body and seven minutes of your time. It's surprisingly challenging and delivers results with minimal time or equipment.
- YouTube: YouTube is loaded with workout videos. Search for bodyweight exercise or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and find a channel you like. Most don't use any equipment, while some channels will try to sell you various tools.
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- Google's grand plan for health, from fitness apps right up to defeating death (ZDNet)
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