Olympic athletes may seem like the healthiest people on the planet, but traveling may be a big factor that could lead to them getting sick. A new study shows that intense travel schedules across different time zones often makes athletes sicker than when they play at home.
According to the study which appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes who travel through more than five time zones for competitions abroad are two to three times more likely to get sick compared to having games at home.
Researchers studied the health of 259 rugby players who participated in a large international rugby tournament in 2010. The tournament, lasting 16 weeks, took place between eight teams from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Each team traveled to places that were at least two hours from their own country and some traveled as many as 12 hours.
Team physicians recorded the illnesses that were reported and found that there were 469 illnesses, reported by 72 percent of players during the four-month tournament. Those who traveled somewhere that was five or more hours from home were sick 32.6 days out of every 1,000.
The number of sick days dropped to 10.6 for every 1,000 once the players were home.
"The illness risk is not directly related to the travel itself, but rather the arrival and location of the team at a distant destination," the researchers wrote in the paper, as quoted by Fox. This means that flying itself was likely not a factor that contributed to the illnesses.
The majority of the illnesses were infection as 54.5 percent reported. About 31 percent has respiratory conditions, 27.5 percent were gastrointestinal problems and 22.5 percent were skin and soft tissue issues.
The researchers said that aside from dealing with different time zones, the illnesses may have been caused by environmental stressors, such as pollution, temperature, humidity, allergens or altitude of the country. Different foods and germs may have also been a factor.
The studies may relate to the Olympic athletes as well as they travel to London from over 200 different nations. The Daily Mail reported that three Australian atheltes and two from Canada got a stomach virus after arriving in London.
"We said we thought there would be a bit of tummy upsets and there have been. We knew there would be a few people with coughs and colds and sneezes and there have been," Dr. Deborah Turbitt, director for the arm of the U.K. Health Protection Agency which is monitoring the Olympic Village told the Daily Mail.