Unlike numerous Americans whose lives have been lost or harmed, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lifestyle and led to an improvement in the health of Illinois-based business traveler Jeff Summers.
The 55-year-old Summers is not the only one who has seen unexpected beneficial results after the deadly pandemic struck, says Robert Kushner, a doctor, weight management expert and professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. The pandemic eliminated or substantially reduced business trips, making many frequent business travelers healthier, he says.
Summers, one of Kushner’s patients, lives outside Chicago in Wheaton and directs sales and marketing for a software company. He traveled on business about every week before the pandemic, including quarterly trips to Europe.
“Travel often involved customer or co-worker entertainment with little regard for the volume of food and alcohol I was consuming,” Summers says. “My schedule was highly unstructured, my sleep varied wildly, my eating habits were unpredictable and my exercise routine was nonexistent.”
Summers says his weekends were largely spent recovering from the work week, predominantly by consuming comfort food and unwinding with alcohol.
“Clearly, the stoppage of business travel had a domino effect on all those aspects of my lifestyle,” he says. “I suddenly had time to allocate to healthier habits. I was no longer being assaulted with demands outside normal business hours that constantly made me feel my personal lifestyle was out of control.”
With a sudden increase in time and control and the help of the Northwestern Center for Lifestyle Medicine, Summers says he was able to prioritize sleep, diet, exercise and recreation. A substantial weight loss resulted.
“I lost 61 pounds,” he says. “I now exercise six days per week and average seven hours of sleep per night. I have reignited several creative passions on the weekends that now serve as my primary method of unwinding.”
Summers says his cholesterol levels have improved to levels typically seen by people using statin drugs. “And my liver enzymes, which had been perhaps the biggest concern, dropped to the low end of the normal range.”
His challenge and maybe “greatest fear,” he says, is figuring out how to maintain such a regimen “when the business world returns to the new normal — whatever and whenever that is.”
The travel shutdown, Kushner says, has resulted in less eating by business travelers outside the home, fewer business lunches and dinners and less airport eating.
“Foods eaten outside the home are generally higher in fat, calories and sodium, and lower in fiber, than foods cooked at home,” he says. “People also tend to eat the oversized portions they are served — like most of their friends or business associates are doing.”