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Learn How to Overcome the Health Challenges Facing Frequent Flyers

by Christopher Babayode(more info)

listed in retreats and travel, originally published in issue 231 - July 2016

According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) business travel is a trillion-dollar industry.[1] Its foot soldiers, the frequent flyers, pay a high price in terms of sacrifices to their health. Rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are on the increase amongst this demographic.[2] Business has responded with corporate and travel wellness programmes. However, participation rates are low and are yet to yield the desired results. This article aims to contribute to the conversation by offering a way forward that requires input from the corporate world and its frequent flyers in order to realize benefits in personal health and on the balance sheet. The starting point is a realization of a new reality of what flying in today’s global economy entails.

The impact of the Technological Age we find ourselves living in has a lot to do with the environment the frequent flyer lives and breathes. The proliferation of technology in our daily lives means information is available 24/7. Good bad and indifferent information travels so fast it has the power to influence through sentiment alone. Multiple stimuli run rampant for all of us; however when you add the dynamic of frequent travel it becomes a recipe for disaster if left unchecked. Information also has the capacity to be disruptive and stress inducing. In a global economy where things can change at a moment’s notice, the uncertainty this creates is a major source of stress for frequent flyers.

Health Challenges Frequent Flyers

The reliance on technology to get things done, while creating efficiencies also creates dependency. As a group, frequent flyers are routinely early adopters of new technology. Indeed, an infographic by PC Housing titled Mobile Dependency: A growing trend in Business Travel[3] illustrates the link between business, the frequent flyers and technology. It seems the more connected we are the more opportunities we have to invite stress into our lives. The result of all this stress is lowered immune resistance to disease. Some suggest that up to 80 per cent of diseases we currently deal with have an immune function or autoimmune dysfunction component to them. Indications are that the stress of frequent flying and the addiction to technology may be contributing factors in the health pictures of frequent flyers.

Very specific to the plight of frequent flyers is the impact of Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF) of radiation in the Wi-Fi range. The wholesale use of these waves have been shown to affect the habitat and the ecology of the natural world. A multi-disciplinary research report titled The Bioinitiative Report[4]  by the Bioinitiative Working Group proves as much. Human beings have not escaped the effects of EMF either.

Flyers are at risk as they are exposed to these radio waves like the general population and more so, as they use Wi-Fi extensively while travelling on business. To further complicate the matter, airlines flyers and business clamour for Wi-Fi to be fitted on board planes. This is a bad idea. The Aviation Health & Safety in the Digital Age - Radio-frequency (RF) Exposure from Mobile Devices and In-flight Wi-Fi report is worthy of investigation in this regard. Constant proximity to these radio waves in an environment with less oxygen (altitude) is a terrible idea and is not the same as being exposed to these same radio waves on the ground.

Various studies through the years have debated the effects of Wi-Fi on health leaving some unsure of what to believe. The emergence of people characterized as Electro-sensitive should give pause for thought and urge caution. Some facts are not in doubt. In a confined space like an aircraft cabin, gadgets using Wi-Fi give off cumulative emissions into a space already deficient in good quality air.  Furthermore, the aircraft is already exposed to cosmic radiation, if you add a plane load of travellers all using Wi-Fi the air becomes toxic fast. While Wi-Fi is not of the ionizing radiation variety, it would still impact immunity at a time when flyers are exposed and vulnerable.

The awareness that business travellers were underperforming compared to their office based peer’s (see the Airplus Traveller Productivity[5]  white paper), led to corporate and travel wellness programmes, which were supposed to help rectify the situation. The problem is, these programmes don’t quite understand the lifestyles of their mobile workers. Nor do they factor in the new thinking that drives better productivity and performance. The old paradigm said performance, health and happiness influenced each other mutually. The new paradigm says health and happiness are the pre-eminent drivers of performance according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Businesses that understand this paradigm invest well in their workers for mutual benefit. Guy Kawasaki a famous ex Apple employee said Apple had a rule that stipulated any business trip over two hours qualified for first class travel. Apple knew what their workers valued, they met the challenge and got better performance in return.

If the business travel proposition is only about cost savings and compliance, it becomes a harder sell to the employees. This is the challenge that leads to a lack of participation, low compliance and little enthusiasm in an endeavour that clearly has benefits for the company and individual.

Travel wellness encompasses a range of factors that play into how well frequent flyers perform and feel before and after successive business trips. As our focus is frequent flying I will limit commentary to the specific area of jet lag although there are other topics that dovetail with our focus. A question asked of aviation professionals such as pilots and crew at regular intervals is “Are you fit to fly?” This question is rarely asked of the business traveller community on a regular basis. As a result of not assessing fitness to fly, the detrimental effects of frequent flying and jet lag can be exacerbated from the beginning.

To get to the core of how damaging jet lag is to frequent flyers we have to look beyond the simple definition of jet lag as a disruption of the body clock. A helpful distinction to make is that while infrequent flyers get jet lag, frequent flyers get jet stress. Jet lag is what you experience if you don’t fly that often. On the other hand, if you fly every week your experience goes beyond that of an infrequent flyer. It is long lasting overarching and affects your quality of life. It is a state of stress you cannot easily shake off.

The constant pressure of life on the road places demands on the frequent flyer that drain him of vitality and energy. This is often telling physically mentally and emotionally. Research done in collaboration with the University of Surrey titled A Darker Side of Hypermobility[6]  highlights this, it aggregates 15 years of study in the frequent flying travel industry. The headline findings are pretty much the same as the points I have made so far in this article, with the exception of flyers having a higher risk for mental illness.

The starting point for all these factors begins with the immense stress of frequent flying which becomes a constant. Flyers face the challenge of not being able to recover well enough before they have to make the next journey. When they fail to recover adequately they go from fatigue and stress to clinical or sub-clinical adrenal fatigue. This condition is arrived at by two pathways. First, the havoc that ensues when constant time zone switches are not adjusted to properly. It can cause the hormonal clocks of the body to function sub-optimally. Second, the stress of living on the road with all its ups and downs causes flyers to dig into their reserves of energy without the ability to replenish them because they travel so often.

Unaddressed adrenal fatigue is a potential jumping off point for more serious health issues because adrenal energy is part of the apparatus used to safeguard the integrity of the body’s immunity. As the hormonal systems of the body work in concert adrenal fatigue also has implications for the rest of the body’s health. Other challenges unique to frequent flyers worth mentioning separately are vascular remodelling, exposure to ionizing radiation and issues of sleep quality.

Vascular remodelling is when the pulmonary blood vessels thicken as an adaptive response. One of the causes of vascular remodelling is chronic exposure to high altitudes. The pulmonary blood vessels thicken as a response to the pressurization of the aircraft cabin at altitude. The thickening takes place in the lungs and is a factor in pulmonary hypertension possibly leading to congestive heart failure.

Exposure to ionizing radiation is not news to flyers. What might be shocking to find out is that while some suggest there is a safe dose of radiation exposure, some experts of note suggest there is not. At a time when you can’t go to an airport without having to wade through security scanners this is important to bear in mind. Lowering overall exposure is the smart thing to do.  Overall exposure used to be limited to the plane and x-rays if you went to hospital. Now you have to include your gadgets, smart meters, masts in the street and more. Aviation workers are classed as radiation workers. It is about time heavy frequent flyer were too. Doing so would encourage awareness and possible bring this topic into the open.

Issues surrounding sleep tend to be about quality rather than quantity. Being on the go and having to sleep in less than ideal conditions means restorative sleep can be hard to come by. Restorative sleep is the sleep that is rejuvenating in quality, when it is achieved you wake up refreshed. The common complaint of flyers is about not waking up refreshed. The use of pharmaceuticals to help  achieve sleep can be self-defeating because in the long run most of them interrupt the body’s normal mode of functioning if used continuously and they can lead to dependency and addiction issues.

So what is a frequent flyer to do to remain sane and healthy while travelling? The answer lies in choosing sustainable solutions. Most of the solutions used at the moment are able to offer relief in the short term but when you fly for 15, 20, 25 years and beyond these solutions become unsustainable and lead to health complications of their own. This is why the earlier distinction between jet lag and jet stress is so valuable; the former is acute while the latter is chronic.

A lasting solution to jet lag (or jet stress as I prefer to call it) has not been found because the definition of jet stress is flawed. We like to say it is just about de-synchronization of the body clock, but that is only one part of the problem. A better definition is that jet stress is an upset in the body’s normal mode of functioning in a compromised environment which upsets patterns, balance and the equilibrium of the body.

Understanding the terrain of jet stress is the first step to learning how to overcome its challenges. This involves the three fundamentals of Environment, Acclimatization and Entrainment. As a species inhabiting the surface of the earth we are naturally in tune with these three factors. Flying is abnormal as it disrupts our normal mode of functioning in that environment. Therefore, being able to restore this natural order will aid us in overcoming jet stress. Change these three factors and you change the relationship with jet stress.

The most comprehensive and memorable way to do this is through the PHARE Well methodology. It is a set of protocols delivered in a particular manner. It stands for -

  • Protection from the damaging effects of the flying environment;
  • Hydration with better water tools;
  • Acclimatization carried out deftly whenever you travel;
  • Running your hormonal Rhythms in harmony with your body;
  • Mastering the Environment of your biochemistry;
  • Adding Wellness tools as a lifestyle choice.

How do these 6 Steps help Face the Challenge?

The cabin at altitude has less than ideal oxygen ratios, it is more exposed to natural cosmic radiation from the sun as previously mentioned. Positive ions, dust, and static are always present in the pressurized environment. The net effect of all of these is an acidification of the body and its tissues. If you do not protect the body, the acidification drains energy and can cause havoc at cellular level, including DNA changes encouraging certain cancers.

Adequate hydration not only fights against the desert like environment of the plane but it also protects cellular structures. Furthermore, being hydrated helps boost energy production potential.

Acclimatizing well means less time is wasted so you can get down to being productive. If you can acclimatize well you are in effect adapting between environments. This is a handy tool to have if you fly a lot, as it cuts down on that dazed fuzzy feeling most travellers have to deal with.

Rhythms is short for all the clocks of the body not just the circadian ones. The use of melatonin (a hormone) for jet lag is moot as it can have unintended consequences. Working with all hormones is a better way to maintain the balance the body needs instead of storing up health challenges by manipulating melatonin.

Flyers are often unaware that the internal environment (the biochemistry and metabolism) are affected at altitude. All systems become less efficient. In particular, digestion and respiration don’t work as well as they should. The result of these inefficiencies is more acidity in the body. Understanding this and being able to overcome this challenge cuts the rug under the machinations that develop into jet stress. Diet and supplementation interventions are good tools to help.

Health building and lifestyle wellness tools come in handy to help build resilience and flexibility. This involves a level of cardiovascular fitness and strength training amongst other things. Choosing the right set of tools is important if you are going to do them for a sustained period of time. It is also worth mentioning that starting at the right level for how you live your life is vital as you don’t want to overstretch yourself and have the wellness tools of your solution contribute to your burnout.

In summary, multiple factors in and around the flying environment and flyer lifestyles, set flyers on the road to chronic over acidification of the biochemistry and metabolism. These steps drain disorient and stress the body resulting in jet stress. Eliminating jet stress involves building the buffering ability of the body via balancing alkalinity and fortifying adaptive capacity. The sustainable tools of choice are diet, supplements adaptogens and lifestyle.


1.         The GBTA BTITM Outlook - United States 2013 Prospects for Domestic & International Outbound Travel 2013-2014.

2.         Catherine A. Richards, Andrew G. Rundle. Business Travel and Self-Rated Health, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2011.

3.         Mobile Dependency: A growing trend in Business Travel - . 2012.

4.         The Bioinitiative Report -

5.         Airplus Traveller Productivity -

6.         Cohen SA & Gossling, S. A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning A (In press). 2015.


Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) - GBTA BTITM Outlook - United States, .

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Business Travel and Self-Rated Health, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors,_Obesity,.4.aspx .

PC Housing – Mobile Dependency – A Growing Trend in Business Travel,

Bioinitiative 2012 – /  .

World Health Net - Aviation Health & Safety in the Digital Age - Radio-frequency (RF) Exposure from Mobile Devices and In-flight Wi-Fi, .

Airplus - Traveller Productivity - How to improve your travellers productivity, .

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) – .

University of Surrey – A Darker Side of Hypermobility.


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About Christopher Babayode

Christopher Babayode is a flight attendant, nutritional therapist and frequent flier. Having flown for over 16 years for a major UK airline on long and short haul fleets, he possesses knowledge, experience, expertise and insight. As a nutritional therapist who can count cabin crew as private clients he has dealt with frequent flying, jet lag and its consequences at their most brutal. As a therapist running a private jet lag clinic Chris has seen first-hand the impact frequent flying has on business travellers’ health and productivity. As an entrepreneur himself Chris has experienced the toll of jet lag before creating the PHARE Well System of jet lag elimination and prevention.

As a Co-Founder at Global Business Travel Wellness Advisors (GBTWA) Chris is passionate about changing the way people fly by educating the traveling public on how to travel well and healthily, long term. Chris’s present and past contributions to the ongoing conversation about healthy flying include blogs articles and video content on Youtube, SlideShare, Facebook and LinkedIn. You can connect with him and his content at @thejetspert on Twitter, Friends of a Jet Lag Free World on Facebook and as an expert author for under the Business Travel section. Christopher may be contacted via

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