It’s the one question I get asked again and again. How on earth do I stay fit and healthy while travelling around the world, especially since I spend — on average — only five days in each location?
How did I get to a place where, when I am ill, it lasts a day, and how have I managed to be ill for less than five days in the last three years?
But before we get to that, a little history lesson for you. The truth is this: When I lived in a house and stayed in one place for long periods of time, I used to get ill constantly, and I would take forever to recover.
Imagine this for a moment.
You get a cold, and you get one every month or two. When I did get a cold, it regularly turned into something much more nefarious, such as a chest infection. Instead of being ill for a day or so, I’d be completely sidelined for a couple of weeks (yes — it was that bad).
Not only is that debilitating, it doesn’t exactly help you to operate at your best. Those all-important work tasks go out the window, and forget any ides of having fun or seeing your friends.
So what changed between then and now? How am I staying so healthy despite all the apparent stresses and strains of constant travel? And how can you replicate my situation?
Back in the day, I ran a number of software companies, and before that I spent many years at the sharp end of sales. The result? Constant adrenaline production. And with adrenaline comes our first enemy — overproduction of cortisol.
Cortisol, in short doses, improves the immune system, but when you produce too much of this “stress hormone,” your body gets used to it which opens the door to inflamation. A significant amount of research suggests that constant overproduction of cortisol even erodes the immune system.
And stress decreases lymphocytes — these white blood cells that help fight off infection. The lower your lymphocyte level, the more at risk you are for viruses, including the common cold.
High stress is also linked to depression and anxiety, both of which leave your immune system weak.
How did I combat this?
Daily meditation, and focusing on the present as a result of that practice.
Initially, I was introduced to daily meditation by a good friend, Gaia Dempsey, who also encouraged me to continue the practice both via personal support and by downloading the truly wonderful Calm app. At the time of writing, I’ve been meditating every day for more than three years, and it keeps my stress levels at an all-time low.
The hypothesis is that my immune system has repaired itself over time thanks to low stress. But that’s not the only thing helping me to fight off bugs.
That’s right — travel can keep you healthy.
I travel a lot. In 2018, I took 75 flights covering 163,000 miles. I added around 10,000 miles to that by car, train, and boat. Much of my travel is in the company of strangers, and with that comes constant exposure to all the ills of the world.
And that’s a good thing.
There’s a movement in some countries of having to disinfect everything your children come into contact with, and that’s just plain wrong. In order to build up immunity against those bugs that are designed to bring us down, your immune system needs to be exposed to them.
That being said, it is important to still make sure you wash your hands regularly, especially after visits to the restroom. While I’m on that topic, let me stand on my soapbox for a moment. Men, wetting your hands and walking out of the toilet is not the same as washing them. And you’re making the door handle wet for the rest of us! And I have it on good authority from my friend Katherine Twomey that women do the same. Just wash and dry your hands with each visit damnit!
Importantly, what you eat makes a big difference to your immune system and general health. I’ve completely transformed my body through nutrition alone, and any bodybuilder will tell you that what you eat is 90 percent of the muscle building or fat burning process.
I choose to eat according to Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet, which is detailed in his Four-Hour Body book. Why? By keeping my sugar intake low I help my body. Eating or drinking too much sugar curbs the cells that attack bacteria, and sugar intake has a lasting effect — it stops your immune system from working effectively for at least a few hours after a couple of sugary drinks.
The high protein, low sugar diet (not no sugar, importantly) helps keep me awake and thin too, and the mandatory “cheat day” makes the entire diet sustainable and fun.
If you don’t want to, or can’t, follow the slow carb diet, you’ll make a huge difference by just ensuring you eat whole foods and natural ingredients. Avoiding processed foods is a decision that will make the biggest difference to your health, energy levels, and immune system.
Exercise, but without the hassle
Exercising as a nomad isn’t easy. It’s hard to find gyms that allow for drop-in sessions without memberships, and while some solutions exist in the USA and UK for this, there isn’t a worldwide drop-in system just yet.
But you can exercise without really thinking too much about it.
I walk. A lot. Given the choice of a transport option, or my feet, my feet win every time. On average, I walk 52 miles a week. And I walk fast too. That burns a lot of calories, and helps me to maintain cardiovascular health.
And when it comes to working out, you’re already carrying all the weight you need to stay in shape. All you need now is a space on the floor large enough for your body, and you can do both cardio and resistance training. If you need inspiration, guidance, and motivation, Johnson & Johnson’s 7-minute Workout app is one of the best. You can manage seven minutes a day, right?
While getting a lot of sleep helps, it’s not always possible when having to deal with conference life and professional speaking. But there’s a hack for that too.
I use an app called Sleepytime to ensure that, regardless of whether I sleep for three hours or seven and a half, I wake as refreshed as possible by timing the time I wake to the natural 90-minute sleep cycle we (typically) all enjoy. You can find it on Google Play and the Apple App Store.
Getting as much sleep as possible helps build your immune system, so it is important to get good quality sleep as much as possible, but when life gets in the way of a long sleep, waking at the right time helps me to feel energized regardless of the length of sleep.
None of these tips are going to change you overnight. You don’t expect to go into the gym, do some bicep curls, and wake up with Arnold Schwarzenegger arms the next morning, do you?
Practice makes perfect, and doing these things consistently will have a positive, lasting effect on the way your body produces hormones, which ultimately boosts your immune system and leads to a healthier lifestyle.
Go nomad, and stay healthy.