By: Dr. Alyssa Musgrove
Travel and the holidays seem to go hand in hand. But, while it can be fun to reconnect with family and friends, it’s no secret that traveling can wreak havoc on your body and your health.
Studies have found that one in every five people may experience a cold or illness following air travel. Add to that the other unpleasant “side effects” of travel, including stiff and painful joints, dehydration, swollen feet, sluggishness and high amounts of stress, and it becomes easy to see why many of us feel less than 100% after a trip.
There are many factors working against our immune system when we travel. To start, airplanes are a small enclosed space where people of all ages, from all over the world, stay for a long period of time. The University of Alabama conducted a study that found germs can stay up to seven days on a plane. The areas where the most germs can be found inflight are armrests, seat belts and buckles, seat pockets, tray tables and the touchscreen entertainment.
Lower oxygen levels at altitude (even in pressurized cabins) and low humidity in the cabin also play a factor. Decreased humidity can cause the mucous membranes in our nose and throat to dry out. The mucous membranes in our body are designed to protect us from most germs, bacteria and diseases we come in contact with everyday. Dehydration is also common during flights, resulting in dry itchy skin, red eyes and a parched mouth.
Is it possible to combat some of these issues? The answer is, yes. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent illness and improve your holiday travel experience:
Rest Up. Be sure to get plenty of rest before your flight — a solid 7-9 hours is ideal. Rest is one of the best things we can do to ensure the immune system is performing at an optimal level.
Eat Well. What you eat has a huge impact on the strength of your immune system. While it can be difficult to make healthy food choices while traveling, do your best to focus on fruits and vegetables to nourish and strengthen the body. Options are improving at airport grab-and-go stores, so reach for snacks like crunchy snap peas or easy-to-peel bananas and oranges. Fresh fruit and cheese or vegetables and hummus are great inflight options. Try to avoid salty foods like chips and roasted nuts as they can speed up dehydration, which already occurs as a result of the pressurized cabin environment.
Bring Your Own Bottle. The best and easiest way to stay hydrated is by bringing your own water bottle. Most airports have water bottle filling stations, which makes it easy to fill up before your plane boards. It is recommended to drink at least 8 ounces of water for every hour of flight time. Skip the coffee and adult beverages — both speed up the dehydration process. Reach for tea over coffee. Most airlines have a couple basic tea options, but you can always bring your own tea bag and ask for hot water on the flight.
Stretch and Roll. If you suffer from regular joint pain, you might notice an increase in discomfort while flying. This is because changes in air pressure can trigger an inflammatory response. Most airplane seats intensify pressure on your lower spine and have an odd angle for your neck, causing tension in muscles and stiffness in your back. Well-worn joints might be stable until crammed into tiny chairs and sitting for long periods of time. I always fly with an inflatable lumbar support pillow to prop behind my lower back, which does not take up much room in my bag and is easy to find online. I also usually travel with my collapsible foam roller (a great Christmas gift!) so once I get to my destination, I can roll out my muscles and fascia. Stretching and foam rolling can help rehydrate muscles, relieve muscle stiffness and make you feel great again! Short strolls down the aisle while in flight can keep your joints moving and ensure proper circulation.
Reach for Supplements. We are approaching peak flu season, so it’s worth taking a few extra precautions to keep yourself well. Start boosting your immune system two to three days before you fly and for a few days after you return. There are always options like airborne and emergen-C for general support. Vitamin C can boost your body’s ability to fight airborne germs and reduce symptoms or duration of a cold. Other options are oregano oil, elderberry, echinacea, green juice (with low to no sugar content), vitamin D and b-complex. Adaptagens like ashwagandha, licorice root, rhodiola and ginseng can help support stress and reduce symptoms of jet lag.
Wishing everyone safe travels – and good health — this holiday season!
Pathways to Healing specializes in holistic chiropractic care. Dr. Alyssa Musgrove draws on a variety of techniques, including chiropractic, kinesiology, nutrition, food allergy testing and lifestyle counseling to assist clients in achieving optimal health and wellness in one setting. Pathways to Healing is located at 1022 Founders Row, Lake Oconee Village, Greensboro. The office can be reached at 706-454-2040.