Keep on Moving!

A busy travel schedule should never be a barrier to working out and staying in shape.

Like many executive businesswomen, Bita Sistani is always on the go. Having clients and business partners located across the country and all over the world means that Sistani’s workday is hardly nine to five. The director of business development in the automotive products division at semiconductor manufacturer Micron Technology Inc. works 50 to 60 hours a week and travels once or twice a month domestically or internationally for business.

Although she can occasionally work from home, Sistani often makes the one-hour-plus commute from her home in San Francisco to her office in Silicon Valley. Add in necessary tasks like cooking, washing laundry, and paying bills, and there’s little time left for much of anything else.

Despite her time-crunched schedule, Sistani, who competes in triathlons, marathons, and century bike rides, manages to follow a vigorous fitness regimen—both at home and on the road.

“Exercising is how I maintain work–life balance,” says Sistani, 43, who works out six days a week—with a good mix of swimming, biking, running, and yoga in her regimen. “For me, to be able to work harder, I need to be healthy and happy. And the way for me to get there is through training and exercise.”

While establishing and maintaining an exercise program is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for hard-charging business executives like Sistani.

“There’s a direct relationship between how high you are on the corporate food chain and how much stress you have,” says Bill Tulin, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and coauthor of Travel Fitness: Feel Better, Perform Better on the Road. “The importance of working out is directly related to, and increases with, your career growth. The more you earn, the more stress you’ll have, the more you need to burn that bad juju out of your system.”

It’s known that physical activity helps relieve stress, elevate energy levels, and combat fatigue. The catch-22 is that as you advance in your career, you’ll have more responsibilities and more work—but less time to hang out at the gym.

“You have to be very thoughtful about how to get [exercise] in and how to make it happen. That gets even more challenging when you travel,” says Tulin.

It’s tough enough to keep an exercise routine at home, much less try to squeeze one in when you’re in another city or country. But don’t let business travel derail your workouts. Even though you may be jet-lagged, time squeezed, and in no mood to do laps in a pool, remember that physical activity can leave you more energized and focused. And the boss will surely like that you’re more productive after a workout. Here are some tips on how to stay fit on the road.

Plan for exercise

Business deals over lunch and dinner, evening schmooze fests, and jam-packed meeting schedules make it difficult to maintain any semblance of a routine. Workouts are usually the first activity to go by the wayside. But like all other important events you schedule into your day, exercise needs to be entered on your calendar. Treat exercise sessions with just as much importance as your business meetings.

If you’re used to working out at a particular time, whether in the morning, at lunchtime, or after work, try to do the same while on the road. Maintaining your normal routine can help you adjust to time changes, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, if you know that your days will be too hectic to keep your regular routine, you might consider working out early in the morning to ensure that nothing will interfere with your exercise, advises Tulin.

Check out the facilities

Feather pillows and down comforters may be a prerequisite for some hotel guests, but for Sistani, a hotel with a decently equipped fitness center and/or pool is at the top of her list. Most good-size hotels have fitness centers on-site. However, the “fitness center” may be no more than a large broom closet with a treadmill and some free weights. To avoid being disappointed when you see the Nautilus weight machine from ’80s, call the hotel and ask exactly what the fitness center contains. Don’t fret if the hotel doesn’t have one. It may have an arrangement with a nearby gym that guests can use for a nominal fee, so be sure to inquire.

If your hotel doesn’t provide access to facilities to your liking, explore the area to see if a local gym will let you pay a day-use fee. If you’re a member of the YMCA or other large commercial gyms, you may be able to use the neighborhood facility free or for a small fee.

Bring your gear

You don’t need a lot of gear to exercise. Just throw your workout clothes, shoes, and a couple of DVDs into your suitcase, and you’re set. You might even have room for light ankle weights, elastic bands, or a jump rope for an in-room workout.

Get creative

Okay, you forgot your workout DVDs and your jump rope. That’s no excuse for skipping a workout.

Body-weight exercises such as push-ups and ab crunches don’t require equipment. Hotel towels can replace of resistance bands to help you stretch. And every city has tall buildings with stairs to climb and parks with trails and paths to walk or run. Like open-water swimming? Check out the nearest lake, bay, or ocean.

Prior to every trip, Sistani goes online to search for recreational options available at her destination, such as a nearby gym and places to run and swim.

Set realistic expectations

Although you might feel inclined to work out extra hard to burn off all those extra calories you’ve consumed from dining out, increasing the level of your exercise regime while on the road is not ideal and could cause injury. Maintaining your fitness should be the goal. However, if you are unable to keep up the frequency and intensity of your normal exercise, don’t beat yourself up. It’s better to do something than nothing at all. Because most business trips entail many hours of sitting on planes and in meetings, your chance of injury rises. Tulin suggests working out every other day, performing 60 percent of your normal routine at 80 percent intensity to avoid injury.

Sistani learned this lesson the hard way.“ Most of my business trips are
intense, so I have to alter my exercise,” she says. “When I first started traveling, I would do too much and overtax my body, and this would have a negative impact on me. Now, I do a little less and then get back on track when I get home.”

Give your colleagues a heads-up

If you’re traveling with co-workers or meeting off-site colleagues, let them know about your exercise plan. After-hours dinners and cocktail parties are standard operating procedure for a lot of business travelers. Arrange to meet a little later, following your workout. Better yet, invite colleagues to work out with you. Propose a walking chat at a nearby park rather than a business meeting over lunch.

Sistani says that her co-workers have been understanding about her requests for exercise time during business trips. She has even convinced some to join her in her daily workouts.

“I think I’ve managed to influence them to exercise,” she says. “I have noticed on our business trips that some of my colleagues now take time to go to the gym or go swimming.” DW

Sherri Eng is a writer based in San Francisco.

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