How This Former Military Man Keeps Fit While on the Road
An ex-special operations strike force commander offers 3 tips on how to keep your physical fitness routine on track during business travel
A tried-and-true physical fitness routine does more than keep your body fit. Research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that exercise combats stress-induced damage to the hippocampus, the brain’s center for learning and memory.
In short, fitness routines optimize a person’s physical, mental and cognitive health -- three prongs of fitness which constitute valuable tools for any entrepreneur or business leader.
Maintaining a fitness regimen during business travel, however, can be difficult. My eight years in the military, including time as a U.S. Army special operations strike force commander, taught me the importance of a disciplined routine. A regular routine, after all, is everything when it comes to maintaining health, wellness and fitness; and travel almost always threatens that routine: Your diet will likely change; your movement is often restricted, regardless of whether you fly or drive; and time-zone changes can lead to jet lag, which stresses your body still further.
All these setbacks can be self-perpetuating prophecies if a fitness routine is not deliberately built into your travel plan. Business travel requires end-to-end emotional and mental engagement. Therefore, a deliberate, travel-tested and highly disciplined exercise routine can aid and maintain your productivity while you're on the road.
Keep your mind and body sharp.
I've heard successful entrepreneurs openly discuss the impact effective fitness regimens have on their day-to-day performance. Fitness routines provide energy, stamina, confidence and resiliency. When you're in the thick of business travel, you'll find that energy, optimism, memory and focus are even more valuable resources than time. Use the following strategies when building your travel fitness routine, to keep all those tools sharp:
1. Make mornings your time.
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey logs 18-hour workdays but integrates three seven-minute workouts into his morning schedule. When asked about that routine, Dorsey has said that it “allows a steady state that enables me to be more effective.”
Dorsey’s commitment to early morning exercises, despite his marathon work hours, shows that morning is a great time to dedicate to fitness. Make the early hours your time to exercise, too, particularly when you travel, even if your exercise time frame is only 15 to 20 minutes. Mornings are critical because they are the only time of day when your schedule is truly your own and not something that's at the whim of others.
Also, when you book your travel, try to select hotels that offer or are near gyms, pools, yoga studios or recreational areas so that you can make those early-morning workouts more travel-friendly.
Convenience matters, particularly when motivation is low, so make things easy on yourself. You can even jog around town or do exercises in your hotel room to start the day. Just do something physically demanding every morning -- even if it is different from your at-home fitness routine -- to challenge your body and prime your mind so that you’ve prepared yourself for the day.
2. Pack with (more than one) purpose.
My time in the military included missions for which I had to pack light and smart. Weight and space were always at a premium, and being away from our base and its “relative” comforts for an indeterminate period meant we would need to pack equipment that would serve multiple uses.
Related: How to Pack for a Business Trip
Treat your travel and fitness routine the same by packing items that serve multiple uses. This might mean a nice pair of cross-training shoes that you can wear equally for casual daytime activities or for some physically demanding activity. It might mean earbuds that can do double (or triple) duty for working out or engaging in a conference call or entertaining yourself on a long flight.
Consider everything you will need to stick to your exercise routine. If you pack with an intent to exercise, you are far likelier to maintain your fitness routine while on the road.
3. Regulate your food and liquids intake.
Food has only one purpose -- energy -- so think about it in terms of necessity instead of versatility. Consume food with optimal nutritional value to stay energized and focused during your trip.
Water, meanwhile is a traveler’s greatest supplement, so rely on it heavily, especially during long air travel. The Aerospace Medical Association recommends drinking 8 ounces of water for every hour of flight. Peter Hackett of Altitude Medicine echoes that instruction, especially for travelers flying for more than three or four hours at a time. Drink water before and during your travel, then drink a glass of cold water and take a cold shower as soon as you reach your destination.
For coffee enthusiasts like me, caffeine in moderation can be a great travel ally, especially if you're flexible about the java choose: For example, research shows that mushroom coffee not only boosts energy better than regular coffee, but also improves immune and brain function. This satisfies your caffeine craving and hones mental function and decision-making skills for whatever business may come.
4. Pay attention to mental fatigue.
Mental fatigue is a widely accepted part of traveling, but you can largely defeat it with a well-planned, travel-ready health regimen. Make your exercise and health routine important enough that you never skip it, yet be versatile enough for your on-the-go needs. Consistency and discipline are your greatest allies, and before long, fitness just might become a non-negotiable part of your travel planning. Once you experience the benefits of a fitness routine on the road, my guess is you'll never turn back.