I have crossed the country twice in the last week and then crossed the Atlantic to visit a sick relative in Israel. I used to “commute” from San Francisco to Detroit almost every week. I did that for five years. By the end of that time, I was in very bad shape—reflective of years of no exercise and way too much comfort food.
For the past two years, I have not had to travel much for work and have been able to get healthy again. Being at home makes it easier to eat better food, workout daily with a trainer, and take evening walks with my beagle basset. So, getting back on a plane with back-to-back trips reminded me of how hard it is to take care of yourself while zipping through time zones, getting to your destination late, and struggling to stay awake through the next day’s 8 am meeting—munching on hotel bagels slathered in cream cheese.
Airplanes and airports add to the problem. I no longer have any “premium flyer” status, so my recent flights were all in regular coach (translating to knees hitting the seat in front even if you are short). Three out of my four legs San Francisco-Washington DC-San Francisco were in the dreaded middle seat. Not only is there no room to do any in-seat exercises, but it is also hard to leave your seat when the guy in the aisle seat has his tray down and is sound asleep. A lot of flights aren’t serving real food to coach customers anymore, so you munch on the snack mix and try not to drink too much water so you won’t have to keep getting up to use the restroom at the back of the plane.
Eat, eat, eat, sit, sit, sit
On this trip, I had a short layover in the Denver airport. I tried to find something healthy to eat for the long leg to DC. There were lots of nice souvenir shops, but food selections were limited. Two of the three restaurants served the exact same sandwiches from the same distributor—all of them on big fat rolls. The third restaurant was Mickey D’s—it had very long lines so it wasn’t even in the running because of my short layover. The salads in these restaurants were unappealing and, with my late arrival in DC, not really what I wanted to fill my stomach with until I could get a real meal the next day.
There was no time to exercise…I was too tired anyway. So, it was eat, eat, eat, sit, sit, sit, and then eat some more. Luckily, it was only a three-day trip.
I got home on Wednesday. On Friday night, I was again sitting in coach—knees bumping into the seat in front of me for a red-eye to Newark, followed by a nine-hour layover, and then a ten-hour red-eye to Tel Aviv. By the time I got off the last flight, I wasn’t sure if I was tired or alert, hungry or full, living or dead. Oooohweee! What a terrible thing to do to your body.
It has taken two days to recover. This morning, Tuesday in Israel, the jet lag has finally resolved and my normal energy level has returned. My husband and I took a long walk/run/walk on a beautiful beach. I am hoping I can get enough exercise in over the next two weeks to tide me over for the return trip and post-trip jet lag.
Coping with the road warrior life
Lot’s of folks live this kind of “road warrior” life for years. I did. It is one more challenge that modern life imposes on our ancient gene pool that evolved to sustain us during alternating periods of feast and famine, exercise (to catch or grow the food), and rest. For folks who have inherited insulin resistance, this kind of lifestyle can be extremely detrimental to health, leading to weight gain, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, abnormal lipids, glucose intolerance, and type 2 diabetes.
It will take careful planning on the part of individuals (e.g., packing a healthy meal and scheduling a longer rather than shorter layover so that you can walk for sixty minutes before the next leg). It will also involve the traveling public applying pressure on airports and airlines so that healthy alternatives to chips and burgers are readily available. And, by the way, once we advocate for these healthy foods, we need to buy them instead of the calorie-dense comfort foods they are now serving. Hopefully, business travel will continue to diminish as alternatives, such as video conferencing replace those long plane rides and early morning meetings. Meanwhile, to the road warriors amongst you, all my sympathy and best wishes for sticking to your diet and exercise.