As a young boy, I always thought businessmen and women were the luckiest people alive. The way they could sleep in Lagos and wake up in London on Monday, have a meeting in New York on Wednesday and inspect a factory in Beijing by Friday. It always intrigued me how they accumulate air miles.
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I was raised by a hypermobile mother who had outstanding business acumen by way of genealogy. I remember going through her entry visas-riddled passport back in the day and wondering how one person could have used up so many travel documents. I quietly envied her. She had seen the world while creating value and doing something she was not just passionate about but was probably the best at. I didn’t think there were many folks who were that privileged.
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With good road network, air miles may not be necessary
Hypermobility is something most business people have in common. The global nature of business often requires entrepreneurs to commute long distances by air for a myriad of reasons. It is expected. Air travel is fast and businessmen are renowned for the value they place on their time.
When you do business in an import-dependent economy like Nigeria, you are likely to engage in frequent trips in airplanes. This is made even worse by a rail system that is virtually absent in Nigeria and a road network that is in a perennial state of disrepair. These leave Nigerian businessmen with little or no choice but to fly even within the country.
Advantages of accumulating air miles
They fly so much that the gather air miles that earn them perks like discounted fares, class upgrades, baggage allowances and so on. But that is just one side of the coin. There is another side of frequent flying or hypermobility asides air miles that every upwardly mobile entrepreneur must keep in view. This is largely because of the attendant long-term health consequences which can be mitigated by taking proactive measures.
There is sufficient empirical evidence based on research that hypermobility affects the health. Whilst the psychological and mental effects may be subject to personality types and other variables that are often difficult to measure, the physiological tolls are usually quite apparent and are numerous.
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Health implications of accumulating air miles
Susceptibility to Infections
Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward would be susceptibility to infections. This is easy to appreciate given that planes are enclosed spaces and the longer one spends in such an environment the higher the chance of randomly picking a germ.
The ventilation system in an airplane is such that a single sneeze can send aerosols as far as 50 feet in all directions within the cabin. This is worrisome given that a Boeing 737 is between 100 and 140 feet long on average.
In 2014, some researchers at MIT theorised that droplets from coughs and sneezes remained in the air much longer than previously assumed and even travelled up to 200 times the hitherto described distance. When you consider the fact that a single sneeze expels between 40,000 to 100,000 germs, the thought of being in Economy class right in front of a passenger with Tuberculosis must make one shudder. Yuck!
Again, the diversity of the passengers presents a health hazard. Scientists at the University of Colorado assert that the human hand can harbour up to 300,000 microbes while the skin and nares of an average human adult groom between 10 billion and a trillion bacteria as normal flora. This gives an idea of how much contamination an average fully booked Lagos-London flight contends with.
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As if the ubiquity of bacteria on the flights was not bad enough, there is an additional risk of dehydration and its additive effect on the chance of picking a germ. You see, the low humidity in airplane cabins dry up the eyes, throat, nose and ears. This drying encourages infection by disarming the immune mechanisms in these areas that are in direct contact with circulating air within the aircraft. So here we are, with bacteria running amok in the face of a dysfunctional immune system, albeit temporarily.
In fact, a research published in the Journal of Environmental Health posits that you are 100 times more likely to catch a common cold on a plane than if you did not fly. It will therefore help to remain as hydrated as possible during long haul flights by drinking water as frequently as possible. A cup or two per hour is recommended while alcohol may worsen the dehydration and is best avoided.
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Additionally, crossing time zones too frequently disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm and this manifests as jet-lags. Essentially, the circadian rhythm is the intrinsic body clock that controls metabolism, sleep, appetite and activity. So what happens is that there is a disconnect between what your body understands and what the environment presents.
Simply put, your body is in “Lagos mode” physiologically while you are physically in Kuala Lumpur! How confusing! This messes up sleep cycles, the mood, appetite and fitness. A study published in 2007 connects frequent jet-lags to a higher incidence of psychosis, insomnia, somnolence, mood swings and cardiovascular problems. It therefore behoves the travelling entrepreneur to properly plan the itinerary in such a manner that allows as minimal disruption to the body’s physiology as possible.
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Traveller’s Thrombosis is a kind of Deep Vein Thrombosis that is frequently encountered among jetsetters. Thrombosis occurs as a result of prolonged sitting causing the blood flow in the legs to slow down. When this is unabated, a clot develops from the slowed down thickened blood and will cause sudden death if such a clot finds its way into the heart and/or lungs.
It is common to read of stories of people who suddenly died aboard different flights for no apparent reason. No, it is not the village witch. It helps to ambulate routinely during flights. A walk down the aisle every hour when the safety signals are off will do your body a whole lot of good. There are also travel paraphernalia like compression stockings and air pillows that can be used in-flight to keep the leg muscles active and maintain optimal blood flow.
There are factors that may predispose to the development of such clots in the legs and you must take note to ensure adequate precaution is taken. Females on oral contraceptive pills or who are pregnant are just as susceptible as obese people who smoke. The risk may also be higher in the elderly. Studies have suggested that 1% of passengers develop thrombosis and this is expected to rise given the growing incidence of obesity, a potent risk factor, worldwide.
The pathologies discussed above are not exhaustive by any means. Noise induced permanent deafness and radiation exposure are growing concerns also among jetsetters. This is besides the psychological and mental strain families and relationships may be subjected to from a globetrotting partner.
Do you ever wonder if CNN’s Richard Quest has a wife and kids? They must have the patience of angels! He always seems like he is either in arrival halls or departure gates. Concerns about feeding habits and lack of exercise due to geographical instability also come to mind. You are more likely to consume junk or fast-food when you are on the road.
Health is wealth
Our health remains our most critical and principal asset and we must ensure it is optimal at every given time. Business must be done. Transactions must be closed. Deals must be sealed. Since we expect business to become even more globalised in the coming years, we must leverage on technology to improve efficiency of doing business. Forget the air miles and consider your health.
Perhaps, video conferencing and Skype could present viable platforms to meet with trade partners around the world without necessarily hopping on the next flight out of town. Technology also allows virtual tours in 3D and the emerging breed of entrepreneurs can harness this and so much more to cut travel time. Not only do they safeguard their health, they also judiciously deploy dwindling resources. So you can get by without travelling except it is absolutely necessary.
Body no be firewood!
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