This is the busy time of year for airports. More Americans fly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s more than at any other time of year. And as anyone who has spent time in airports or airplanes during the holidays knows, flying at this time can be emotionally draining.
Even though the holidays are now past, tips on handling travel are still in season because travel can take a toll physically. Rushing to the gates, finding lost luggage and trying to find a healthy meal while out and about can be stressful. But with a little common sense and planning you can make flying a much healthier experience at any time of year.
Snack time: You should eat something on a long trip, but don’t eat too much, because you’ll be sitting in your seat for an extended period of time. Stick with easy-to-digest carbohydrates or nuts (fruit, nuts, or whole grain snacks) and skip the heavier foods like meats and cheeses. The same goes for children who are flying with you.
Hydrate: Air in the cabin is typically dry, and if you aren’t careful you can become dehydrated. You need to drink something, but go easy on the alcohol or skip it altogether, and avoid drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas). Your best bet is to stick with water.
Be comfortable: Gas expands at higher altitudes, often in uncomfortable ways. For pre-flight and in-flight meals, avoid foods that may become problems as you digest them (broccoli, burritos, etc.). And in the weeks before you fly, a dental exam would be a good idea. Even a tiny pocket of air in a tooth cavity can expand and become painful at cruising altitude.
Stretch it out: Sitting for a long stretch in an airline seat can cause the blood in your legs to pool. To stimulate blood circulation, apply pressure to the balls of your feet. If you can reach your feet and massage them, that’s ideal. If not, periodically pressing the balls of your feet to the floor is also good. Taking a quick walk up and down the aisle is also a good way to get a quick stretch in during long flights.
Get moving: You can stimulate circulation before you get on the plane, too. If you arrive early for your flight – or if it’s delayed – get up and walk around. The exercise will improve blood flow and reduce stress. A pre-boarding walk is also great if you are travelling with young kids who may become restless on the flight.
Be prepared: Keep all of the medications you’ll need with you on the plane, in case your flight is delayed or your luggage gets lost. Better safe than sorry.
Keep time: Consider which way you’re flying and plan accordingly. Crossing time zones causes jet lag, and when you fly from west to east, it takes longer for your body to adjust to the time change. If you’re flying from California to New York, schedule your arrival in a way that gives you time to rest up before doing something important – like a big get-together with your family. And take heart: Your east-to-west return flight will involve an easier adjustment.
Enjoy your travels.
Dr. Christopher Walker is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville, a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.