Thursday, March 22, 2012

Staying Healthy While Traveling

If you travel frequently for work, then you know how exhausting the experience can be.  Often times it includes stress associated with the preparation, multiple modes of transportation, including long flights or time spent in airports, changing time zones and erratic sleep, a disruption of your eating schedule and typical diet, long days and late nights with heavy dinners and alcohol.

So how, with so many factors disturbing your body’s normal routine can you ensure that your trips don't leave you with a depressed immune system, illness, and exhaustion?  Here are some tips to get you prepared for your trip and to keep you strong and healthy even after you get home.

Prepare ahead of time - How your body responds to an event such as flying has a lot to do with how healthy it is before flight.  As difficult as this may be, try to get plenty of rest before your trip and eat a healthy diet at least a week before leaving.  If possible, begin adjusting your bedtime closer to your destination’s a few days before leaving. In addition to eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, take a supplement that includes antioxidants to help protect your cells from radiation.

According to the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the International Commission on Radiological Protection, a single international flight will expose you to a week’s worth of the equivalent radiation on the ground.  This may not seem like a lot, and for occasionally flying it shouldn’t be a concern.  But consider that with each long trip, you’re exposed to at least an additional two-week’s worth of cosmic radiation.   Add to this wireless internet that is now offered in many flights and it may become significant if you’re a frequent flyer.

Stay hydrated - The dry air in flight can be extremely dehydrating to your skin and mucus membranes, which can make you more susceptible to catching the nearest bug.  Drink plenty of water before the flight and stick with water or herbal teas on the flight as well.  Caffeinated drinks and alcohol will also lead to dehydration and this alone, apart from the other issues with these beverages, will zap your energy and weaken the immune system (among other things). 

Minimize eating on the plane - The lack of moisture in the air and pressure in flight can put stress on the digestive system from dehydration and because, as explained by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times, gas in body cavities expands with increasing altitude.  

The best way to minimize the effects are to avoid eating while in the air, and instead stick with water and decaffeinated fluids with as little sugar as possible.  If you must eat something while in flight, try to avoid the processed airline food and bring along healthier options such as fruit, trail mix, a powdered drink mix that can be reconstituted with water, or grab a salad or veggie wrap at the airport.  The important point to remember is that lighter is better.

Get up and move around while in flight - On long flights, try to get out of your seat once per hour to walk and stretch to keep your blood circulating.   While sitting, take your shoes off and work your feet and ankles with toe crunches and ankle rotations.   Work your arms, abdomen and buttocks by contracting and releasing to give some of your larger muscles an isometric workout. 

Bring along workout gear - If you’re staying at a hotel with a pool or gym, take advantage of them.  Thirty minutes of swimming or weights, cardio, and stretching will do wonders for your energy levels and keep your immune system strong.  They will also keep your mind strong and thinking positively, since, according to John J. Ratey in his book Spark, exercise naturally balances all the chemicals in the brain.

Eat sensibly - It’s always a temptation to try new things or overeat when on the road eating out.  You may be tempted to overdo it at the hotel breakfast buffet.  You may be eating late at night where dinner includes several courses and drinks.  You may be sitting for long hours in meetings.   The combination of excess calories and inactivity will lead to sluggishness and added weight.  To avoid this, be sure to eat a balanced breakfast, which will make it less likely that you’ll overeat later in the day.  In addition, stick with three meals, drink water through the day, and watch portion sizes.

With a little planning ahead and attention to diet and exercise, you can stay physically and mentally strong and healthy while traveling.

Image courtesy of digitalart

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