First there’s the airport crammed with convenience food and greasy burger joints. Then there’s the poor air circulation in the cabin where hundreds of strangers’ germs await. Don’t forget the layovers, jet lag, and overall stress of travel.
There’s no doubt about it: maintaining a healthy lifestyle when you’re always 35,000 feet in the air can be tough. Fortunately, if you’re a frequent traveler, you can take some proactive steps to ensure flying doesn’t wreak havoc on your health.
Get Up And Move
Airplanes might be home to any number of viruses and bacteria. In fact, on any given flight, about 20% of passengers will acquire a respiratory infection after flying! Fortunately, regular exercise can help your immune system get the boost it needs to fight off those nasty bugs. Researchers aren’t completely sure why exercise can ward off illness. One theory argues that when you exercise, your body temperature rises enough to kill off bacterial infections. Exercise also allows white blood cells – which help fight off illness – travel faster throughout the body.
Of course, if you’re traveling all the time, you might not have a lot of time in your schedule for a fitness regime. If that’s the case, find ways to work exercise into your current schedule. Book a hotel that features a free gym, if you have the option to do so. Skip the elevator in your hotel or office and opt for stairs instead. Or, if you’re outdoorsy, try going to bed a little earlier and then getting up extra early for a 20 minute jog.
Even once you’re on the plane, movement still matters. Long flights mean more time sitting still. Unfortunately, being sedentary for so long can put you at higher risk for blood clots like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). But you don’t need to break a sweat to prevent DVT’s (nor should you – airplanes have poor air quality that can make breathing difficult). Because DVT’s usually occur in the legs, stretching your calf muscles can help ward off potentially life-threatening blood clots. You can set a timer on your phone to remind yourself to stretch your legs every so often. If you have high risk factors for blood clots – like obesity, diabetes, or high cholesterol – you can also wear compression stockings to prevent your blood from clotting on long flights.
Find Ways To Relax
If flying leaves your palms sweaty and your heart racing, you’re not alone: at least 20 million Americans suffer from aviophobia, or a fear of flying. Or maybe it’s not so much the plane that scares you as it is the being away from home – the anxiety of remembering to pack what you need, of being in an unfamiliar place. Maybe you miss home and the friends and family that go with it. Whatever your reasons, one thing’s for sure: frequent flying can be stressful, even for people who love to travel.
Stress is normal and you don’t need to banish it away to maintain your good health. What you do need is to learn healthy ways to manage your stress and to help yourself relax. Managing stress effectively is essential to good health. Unfortunately, untreated stress can lead to dangerous outcomes like heart attack and stroke, as stress can increase inflammation in your arteries.
One option for helping yourself manage stress is working with a biofeedback device. Increasingly more people are turning to biofeedback to help quell the physical symptoms of anxiety. Through the use of sensors applied to areas of the body like the scalp or hand, biofeedback can help an individual learn to control certain physiologic processes, like heart rate and breathing.
Biofeedback has been used in clinical practice for decades. Recent studies continue to demonstrate its potential in treating a variety of conditions, including to help reduce symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. The good news is you don’t need to spend a fortune on expensive equipment to get started with biofeedback. Effective, easy-to-learn handheld biofeedback devices like the well-regarded emWave2 start as low as $200.
If you’re not interesting in buying a biofeedback device, consider another stress-busting measure that won’t cost you a dime: mindfulness meditation, which you can practice in as little as ten minutes per day. A person practicing mindfulness meditation will often use a physical focal point to center his or her self in the present moment. Usually, that center point is the breath. When you’re focused on what is happening in the moment, you’re less likely to ruminate about what could go wrong during your trip.
Don’t Neglect Your ZZZZ’s
Anyone who has traveled knows the displeasure of jetlag, like a hangover without the fun party beforehand. If getting a full, restorative night’s sleep is out of the question, try to find ways to catch some extra snooze time when you can. While most of us are prone to neglecting sleep during travel, sleep is one of the most important habits for our health, helping to build our immune systems and even to keep our mood in check.
Rather than catching up on work, use your flight time to sleep, if you’re able to relax enough to do so. Don’t assume you’ll have enough time to sleep once you arrive at your hotel, because you never know what kinds of delays – waiting for luggage, sitting in traffic – might await you. Sleep should always come first.
If you have trouble sleeping away from home, consider talking to a qualified mental health professional or your family doctor who can help determine if you’re suffering from insomnia or travel-related anxiety. He or she may be able to recommend treatment options, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or medication. Problems with sleep are just too significant to be ignored. Missed sleep can have all kinds of effects on your body, including an increased risk for heart disease.
Eat Right While You’re Away
Let’s face it: airport food isn’t always the healthiest (or the cheapest). To prepare for your trip, pack your carry-on with nutrition-packed, filling snacks. You might want to include some nuts in your bag, such as walnuts, which are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and may even boost learning and memory. Other healthy options on-the-go include peanut butter and celery sticks, whole grain crackers, and fruit.
Before you head to your destination, spend some time researching restaurant options in the area. You can find a copy of most restaurants’ menus online these days. Use your research to prepare a list of places that are within your budget and that also feature healthy options. Many websites and even smartphone apps list nutrition information for popular restaurant menu items. When you arrive at your destination, you’ll likely be tired and hungry. If you plan ahead, you’ll be less likely to impulse dine and prevent yourself from indulging in unnecessary calories, sugar, and sodium.
Even if you enjoy frequent travel, being away all the time isn’t easy. You have less time in your schedule for things that are essential to your health, but that doesn’t mean good health habits should be neglected. Human being are amazing, which means with the right healthy habits you can overcome everything from the common cold to a serious case of jetlag. A few simple lifestyle changes to prioritize exercise, stress-management, sleep hygiene, and healthful eating can make a world of difference to your health – without holding you back from seeing the world.