Regular travellers know the drill – getting up in the dark and rushing to make an early flight check-in, being hit with a delayed departure, cooped up at altitude, and then fighting traffic to get to a city meeting on time. And then the day really starts in earnest.
Where do you get the physical and mental energy to push through the fuzzy head and aching muscles, and do what you came for?
I’ve learned to prioritise some simple but powerful tactics to stay active, fresh and focused. Far from wilting, I look at business travel as a chance to maintain my wellbeing.
Before you go
Smart flight and hotel bookings can set you up to succeed in staying active.
Before you check into the business lounge, take time to meander through the shops or just wander the concourses, to keep the heart and muscles working ahead of a prolonged period of inactivity.
If you’re not sitting in a business class cabin with direct aisle access, requesting an aisle seat makes it easier to get up to stretch your legs.
Ensure your hotel has a decent gym or lap pool. If it also offers personal training, book a session in advance rather than leaving it until you arrive. Having an appointment makes an effective workout a given, and no willpower needed.
Selecting a hotel with a waterfront location or nearby park provides a scenic route to stretch your legs. Many hotels can provide maps of recommended running routes, while some smart watches also have suggested options built-in.
If you have a long layover from a connecting flight, there may even be some fitness options to get the blood flowing, like the swimming pool at Singapore’s Changi Airport Plaza Premium Aerotel at Terminal 1.
Last but not least, pack resistance bands: they weigh virtually nothing, but challenge all your muscles – and download an app to guide you through the moves. You could even include a lightweight, travel-sized foam roller for loosening tight muscles.
In the air
With humidity on board usually less than 20 per cent, and air pressure equivalent to being 2,000 metres or more above sea level, it’s not surprising that air travel takes it out of you.
To help counteract the low humidity, drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated throughout the flight. Your thirst instinct is like the low fuel light in your car: when you feel thirsty, your body is already at a deficit.
Ease the stress of prolonged sitting with subtle movements in your seat:
• Upper body twist – use your hand on your opposite leg for leverage.
• Shoulder roll - Squeeze your shoulders up, roll them back, then relax them down your spine.
• Neck rotation – keeping your body tall, look over one shoulder, then the other.
• Foot pumps – feet on the floor, alternate between lifting your toes then lowering them and lifting your heels.
• Chest and shoulder stretch – while standing in the aisle, interlace your fingers behind your back. Pull your shoulders down and backwards, opening up your chest.
If you’re on an Airbus A380, the staircase can be used for alternating between a calf raise and a calf drop – keep the movements slow and steady.
At your destination
After checking in to your hotel, take 20 minutes to bust fatigue by exploring the neighbourhood on foot.
In addition to getting the oxygen flowing, exposure to natural daylight will counteract jet lag and lethargy, and you’ll probably also spy some interesting cafes or handy convenience stores to visit later on.
To get around the city, skip the taxi or rideshare and walk whenever possible. If you think your team or clients are amenable to it, leave the office for a ‘walking meeting’ such as through a park. It’s a more casual environment which can also help develop the business relationship in ways a meeting room cannot.
Find gaps in your schedule to book gym appointments with yourself. First thing in the morning is a good way to activate your brain for the day.
Between visits to the hotel gym, get out those resistance bands and do some light exercise in your room.
You can also set yourself daily mini goals, like 50 push-ups, or holding a wall squat for two minutes. (Press your spine against the wall, lower yourself until your knees are at right angles and line your heels up under your knees.)
Are boxing, indoor rock climbing or yoga more your thing? You’re sure to find them in any major city. Travellers who enjoy running are welcomed at Parkrun, a free and relaxed 5km course on Saturday mornings in most cities around the world.
If you’re lucky enough to have free time, book into an active tour such as hiking, stand-up paddle boarding, or cycling, or design your own self-guided walking tour of the sights.
Putting just some of these things into action will have you feeling fitter and sharper than usual on the road – even on arduous commuting days. You might even find you even work better on the road than you do at home.