There’s no doubt that business travel is bad for you. If DVT doesn’t get you then exhaustion, jetlag, mind-numbing meetings and the strain of absence on your relationships probably will. Luckily, however, there are alternatives to watching your health and happiness decline in the face of the latest company cutbacks on travel expenses – you can stay in a “healthy” hotel.

There are two main ways a hotel can help you get, or stay healthy: the first is through exercise, the second through diet. Yet on the exercise front it seems that many hotels disappoint. In a survey of 300 business travellers conducted by Lieberman Research Worldwide for Westin Hotels & Resorts, 64% said that hotel fitness rooms “seem like an afterthought,” while 75% felt the quality of gyms was inconsistent from one hotel to the next. As a result, more than half of the travellers (55%) avoid hotel gyms because they are in such bad condition.

“Working out on the road is a priority for many travellers, but hotels have typically cut corners in hotel workout rooms,” says Sue Brush, senior vice president of Westin Hotels & Resorts.

To address this Westin launched the “WestinWORKOUT(TM) Powered by Reebok”. The name alone may knock the wind out of you, but this is Westin making a determined bid to be different. “We want to improve our guests’ lives so they feel better from check-in to check-out,” says Brush. And why would they want to do that? “Because accomplishing that will build loyalty and clearly distinguish Westin from other hotels.”

So far Westin has spent $12 million on building new fitness centres in 53 of its North American, Mexican and Caribbean hotels, with another 40 to be fitted across Europe and Asia-Pacific. The centres have treadmills, cycling machines, elliptical trainers, medicine balls, yoga mats and core boards and, just in case you don’t know your medicine ball from your core board, it has also helpfully developed 20, 40 and 60-minute complete body workouts targeting each major muscle group. So there’s no excuse for not using them.

For those of us who are too shy or too lazy to be tempted out of our hotel rooms, there are also in-room training programmes. Marriott offers the “Great Health – Fit for You” programme – a snappy name is clearly a pre-requisite – which incorporates the BodyRev(TM), Michael Sena’s Traveling Trainer and BodyWedge21(TM). This alarming-sounding equipment can be delivered to your room on request at full-service Marriott and Renaissance hotels in North America.

What are they? BodyRev is a portable device that looks like a dual steering wheel loaded down with dumbbells ranging from 2 to 4kg. By rotating the device into different positions, it provides a combination of aerobic workout and strength training exercises. The BodyRev kit includes a travel bag, DVD, exercise manual and meal plan (you can buy it for $89/£46) and professes to “turn a few simple moves into an efficient calorie-burning, muscle-toning, energy-boosting routine”.

The Traveling Trainer is the invention of Chicago-based personal trainer and fitness expert Michael Sena, who helped Marriott devise its fitness programme. The Trainer “utilises resistance bands to help travellers increase strength and maintain balance”. The kit, which improves strength, balance and energy, includes fitness-club quality resistance tubes and comes complete with a users’ guide.

The third option is the BodyWedge21, a foam wedge shaped like a large doorstop and offering 21 different exercises to tone the abdominal muscles, buttocks, triceps, lower back and other body parts. You can buy it online for $19.99/£10.

So you can now work off your stress and jetlag in the comfort of your hotel room, but, as we all know, that’s just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Realising that diet is equally important, Marriott originally launched its Fit for You programme in December 2003 as a series of low-carb and low-fat breakfast options. In September 2004 it expanded to include lunch and dinner menus, room service, catering menus and the selections available in the hotel shops. New menu items include low-cholesterol pan-seared Alaskan halibut with brown rice, asparagus and lump crab vinaigrette. It’s not just the food: hotel lounges also began serving Splenda-sweetened iced teas and low-carb beers and wine selections.

Marriott also expanded its healthy options to children’s menus. Robin Uler, senior vice president of lodging food and beverage and retail services at Marriott, says many guests have wanted healthier food options in the past but were not comfortable enough to ask for changes to the menu. “They felt intimidated,” said Uler. “They didn’t want to say: ‘I want you to cook this without butter.'” By changing the menu options, Uler says, a hotel guest can now just point to what he or she wants and not feel they’re being awkward or demanding.

Other hotels chains have taken a different approach. Hilton Hotels has entered an alliance with Bally Total Fitness to offer guests access to more than 5,000 personal fitness trainers in North America. Hilton commissioned a study, carried out by the former director of the NASA Fatigue Countermeasures Program, which showed that people who exercised when on the road perform 61% better in terms of alertness and reaction.

Guests can arrange a personal fitness consultation at 400 Bally locations in the US or in the hotel’s own fitness centre. Hilton is also offering special mini-gyms that guests can use in their hotel rooms. The Hilton Travel Fit Kit includes a yoga mat, elastic exercise bands, resistance bands and two sets of hand weights. Hilton will also bring a treadmill into your guest room at 100 Hilton locations for a small charge.

Of course, rolling something out across hundreds of hotels takes time, but individual hotels can make their own efforts to cater to their guests. The Westin Times Square in New York has created a health-conscious floor,
with 13 spa-inspired guest rooms. The rooms include a Kinjoy shiatsu chair, which is an electronic recliner that offers a range of massage settings for the back and an adjustable footrest. Spa rooms include bath salts, body washes, herbal extracts and an air diffuser that releases a soothing fragrance. Guests in these rooms can receive in-room spa treatments for the same price as regular spa treatments.

The rooms also have a Bose radio and CD player with two relaxing CDs, and the minibar shuns chocolate bars and whiskey miniatures in favour of herbal teas, healthy snacks and complimentary water. The rooms are located on the same floor as the fitness centre and spa; however, guests have the option of ordering resistance bands or an in-room yoga kit.

Meanwhile, Marriott is testing a new hotel concept that combines fitness facilities with hotel accommodation, with its prototype property based in Walnut Creek, California. The Renaissance ClubSport resort is snappily described as a “suburban wellness resort” and is equipped with a 650sqm spa, a 1,100sqm fitness centre, five exercise studios, a gym, three pools, fitness classes, an on-site nutritionist and also provides childcare facilities.

Steve Gilmour, president and chief executive at Leisure Sports Inc., which manages the property for Marriott, says the aim is to combine an elite fitness centre with a four-star business hotel.

“Basically, when I travelled I had to break my routine from what I did at home,” he says. “At home I like to exercise so I have to eat a certain way. Typically at a hotel you have a converted guest room and they have one or two treadmills. This is basically giving the business traveller a resort experience during the business week.”

Leisure Sports and Marriott have entered a joint venture to develop six of these new concept hotels across the US.

While physical fitness is important, for many guests the problem isn’t about getting enough exercise, it’s about getting enough sleep. Many business travellers find it difficult to fall asleep in an unfamiliar environment or may be anxious about waking up in the morning for an important business meeting.

In June 2004, Crowne Plaza hotels launched a program called Sleep Advantage which offers special amenities to help hotel guests get a good night’s sleep. The hotel chain created designated “quiet zones”, night lights, sleep CDs, eye masks, lavender sprays and special bedding to help soothe guests suffering from sleep deprivation.

“Crowne Plaza is the only hotel brand taking a holistic approach to address the entire sleep environment, from bedding and night lights to wake up calls and quiet zones,” says sleep disorder specialist Dr Michael Breus.
Under the Sleep Advantage programme, guests who do not receive their guaranteed wake-up call get a free night’s stay. The hotels also designate at least one floor as a quiet zone – where children and leisure groups are banned – from Sunday to Thursday nights.

If these hotel initiatives don’t help to keep body and mind in peak condition, there are other options for revitalisation. A growing trend among business travellers is to visit urban day spas. In the past, the vast majority of spa customers have been women, but these facilities are increasingly catering to men and are becoming a regular routine among male business travellers.

In 2003, the former Manhattan East Suite Hotel in New York was converted into an urban spa property called the Affinia Dumont following a $15/£7.76 million renovation. The hotel offers special in-room fit kits for yoga, running, strength training and walking; a wellness library of books and CDs; a fitness valet who will launder your workout clothes and a fitness concierge who arranges sessions with personal trainers and leads fitness seminars. The hotel includes an Oasis Day Spa, which offers seven treatment rooms and a fitness centre with limited membership.

Irvin Sherman, a regional sales manager, travels to New York at least five times a year from his home in Kentucky. Sherman is an avid runner who says the Affinia Dumont allows him to keep in shape when on the road.

“It’s hard to run outside in New York unless you want to get up at 4.30 in the morning,” he says.

The 57-year-old began running more than 20 years ago because he was overweight and needed to develop an exercise routine to get in shape. He now runs three-and-a-half miles, six times a week and works out with free weights. “Running and exercising to me is just like brushing my teeth in the morning,” he says.

Karen Dumont, president of Marketing Specialists Inc, based in Florida, switched to the Affinia Dumont from other hotels on the Upper East Side because of its on-site spa facilities. “When I stay at the other hotels, they have an agreement with [local health clubs],” she says. “It’s not the same thing.”

Hotels can provide the means to eat well and keep in trim, but guests need the willpower. A recent American Express survey found that only 33% of business travellers use a gym, compared with 60% who spend their leisure time “socialising” – and that’s 90% in the case of British business travellers. And even if there isn’t a gym in the hotel, that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a jog or, failing that, at least improve your eating habits.
The bottom line is, hotels can make it easier to stay healthy, but it’s really up to you.

Staying healthy on your travels

Diet and fitness advice including tips from Reebok University master trainer Lisa Wheeler


1. Don’t skip breakfast
You need energy to lug luggage, stand in endless airport queues and negotiate confusing airports. Eat before you leave — if you’re too rushed for a proper breakfast, peanut butter on wheat toast is a great hit of carbs and protein. Hard-boiled eggs, a banana or an energy bar are other good choices for on-the-go travellers.
2. Stick to a routine
When we travel, we cede a lot of control over our schedule, our meals and our workout facilities, so it’s harder to stick to our diet and fitness routine. I tell my travelling clients that when we’re on the road, our focus should be on maintenance — squeeze in workouts, eat right more often than not, and do your best to not totally erode all your good work.
3. Don’t just eat convenience food
The easiest thing to eat when you’re in a rush is typically the worst for you. Skip the bagels and the muffins that will ultimately slow you down.
4. Pack your own food
Carry a stash of sports bars for emergencies.
5. Drink lots of water
You can’t rehydrate enough.
6. Order a vegetarian meal
This is the healthiest in-flight fare. If you do order your meal after take-off, opt for protein heavy meals (chicken, seafood, beef) rather than carb-heavy sandwiches or pasta.
7. Don’t go mad
Try to eat like you would at home. So if you don’t tend to polish off a three-course meal with a giant hot fudge sundae at home, don’t eat one on the plane. I guarantee it’s not going to be the best hot fudge sundae you’ve ever had, so why blow it on a mediocre treat?
8. Try local delicacies
Life is too short to skip pasta in Florence or cheese in Paris.
9. Order room service
We’ve all been faced with a bread and pastry laden buffet in hotels. Better to order room service breakfast where you can be more in control of your meal.
10. Drink red wine
Attending a cocktail party or night out on the town with clients? Stick to red wine. At least it’s good for your heart! Have a few glasses of really good wine versus a few too many mediocre drinks.

And for fitness

1. Do some research
Call ahead and make sure your hotel has a good gym. Inquire about nearby fitness clubs that might offer classes you’d like, or research local running routes. And schedule exercise ahead, incorporating time into your itinerary so you’ll be much likely to actually do it when you arrive.
2. Pack your kit
Packing running shoes is a big pet peeve. Stuff the shoes with underwear and socks — use the space wisely. Consider bringing old shoes that you can leave behind in the hotel room. Pack one pair of shorts or exercise pants and one t-shirt and wash them in the room.
3. Exercise in the morning
Get it over with — at the end of the day there are too many variables that may get in the way. Besides, if you work out in the morning, you’ll perform better all day.
4. Squeeze in what you can
Even 20 minutes of exercise is better than 0 minutes. I tell my clients that workouts on the road are about breaking even. Don’t expect the workout of your lifetime when you travel, it’s probably not a reality. Just try not to lose any ground on the good habits you’ve established at home.
5. Take the stairs
Do some sit-ups and push-ups in your room. Go for a walk on your break. Remember, you’re just trying to “break even”.
6. Get plenty of sleep
Never underestimate the pros of recharging on the road with a nap, a bath or a silly movie — business travel is tough, so don’t feel guilty if you need a little time to veg out.