5 Foolproof Tips for Staying Healthy as a Road Warrior

Updated to Business, Habits, Productivity, Speaking on January 23, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

Is it just me, or have you noticed the day before you leave for a trip is a frantic, run-off-your-feet, freak-out?

Everything you’ve procrastinated about (plus 9 more must-do’s) now conspires to overload any free time you thought you had. It’s nasty and it leaves you exhausted and anxious before you even start your trip.

As a speaker, I go through that gauntlet of holy-crap, how-will-I-survive, about every week. The catch is, I’m being paid a pretty dollar to perform—I can’t afford to show up unprepared or physically beat up.

Here are 5 ways I stay healthy on the road.

1. Follow your plan

I can’t stress this tip enough—make a plan and follow it like your life depends on it. When I arrive to my hotel room I make a plan for the evening (including when I will be in bed, clothes ironed, reading) and a plan for the morning. For the morning, I work backwards from when I meet the client to include: final prep, exercise, dressed, eat, meet client.

I always, always, always nail that list. If it says “6:45 leave to meet client”, that is exactly when I walk out and close the door to my room.

Call me crazy (many do), but sticking to my plan is more about my confidence than it is about being on time.

When I meet my client, who has sought me out, signed my contract, paid my fee, and flown me to speak to their friends, colleagues, bosses, members, whoever, I want to be at the top of my game.

When I keep even a tiny promise to myself, I teach my subconscious that I’m a promise-keeper.

Anything less doesn’t cut it.

2. Drink like a camel

Here’s the deal: every minute you breath you use water—it’s got to be replaced. More water in your system is like grease to a wheel – your digestion is better, brain function goes up, laryngitis is avoided, and, who knows, maybe those crow’s feet are less obvious.

Here’s my recipe for hydration:

  • on flights, I plan for 1 pint (1/2 liter) for a one hour flight (those dinky plastic cups don’t even start to cut it.)
  • as soon as I wake up I start my day with one tall glass.
  • at the office, I make a habit of standing up and moving each time I refill my glass (instead of having a big container on my desk.)
  • in the gym, I pack away 1 pint (1/2 liter) for every 30 minutes.
  • when presenting I have 2 glasses on stage of a one hour keynote.

3. Practice Hara Hachi Bu

I’ve written about this before and it’s worth

repeating. In Dan Buettner’s excellent book The Blue Zones he documents the habits of nine of the oldest populations in the world, including the Okinawan’s practice of Hara Hachi Bu, which essentially means stop eating before you are full. In our family we call it the “80% rule” – stop when you’re 80% full.

The physiology is simple: it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the telegram saying you’re full. So to avoid that over-full feeling, put down the fork at 80% and allow your nervous system to catch up.

Other tricks to avoid over-eating are:

  • drink a full glass of water before going to the buffet
  • eat a small handful of nuts
  • take a smaller plate
  • restrict yourself to one visit to the buffet
  • serve up a larger salad and less meat

4. Work that booty

Here’s the deal – it’s hard to squeeze exercise into travel. Unless you’re parked at an all-inclusive (like I was last week for a speaking engagement in Mexico), between the time I arrive for a speech (usually late at night), final prep for the speech and getting up early to meet my client, I don’t have an hour for a full sweat.

That’s why I adopted the 15 minute hotel room workout. I swear by it for feeling fit, boosting confidence, and improving my diet (I tend to eat less when I exercise more.) Read how it works here.

5. Hide the remote

One of the most widely accepted theories about willpower (see my article about willpower) is that you have less of it as the day progresses. By the evening, you’re a stale-Doritos-munching glutton with little resistance to Duck Dynasty re-runs.

That’s why I hide the remote.

I know it sounds foolish, but sometimes a little trick is all it takes to get you one more hour of precious sleep.