Travel Health

You’re on the road. Your flight was overbooked, the line was long to board, your luggage was lost, you miss your family and friends, you’re sleeping in a strange bed, working hard, and stressed out. And to add insult to injury, your bodily functions seem to be shutting down one by one!

Perhaps the biggest challenge of travel is the disruption of your routine. This change can have negative effects on your sleep patterns, diet, energy, stress level and elimination schedule. The closer you can keep things to how you would do them at home, the better you will feel. The following information will address several simple things you can do to stay healthy on the road.

Your diet may be one of the largest changes you make. Generally you eat out at restaurants more often or choose to order room service. These foods may have more fat and sodium than you are used to, which may result in water retention or leave you feeling sluggish and heavy. Your plan to stay nutritionally balanced should include eating lower fat foods high in nutrients and water content, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plenty of water.

I’m always packin’. Food that is… Good nutrition is key to performance and I will not let my ability to perform be in the hands of someone else, as to whether they will provide food or what it may be. I always have trail mix, power bars, peanut M & Ms and water in my briefcase. These foods can rattle around in the bottom of my bag, be crammed in the overhead bin, sat on or left in there for weeks and still be edible. If I’m flying, once I get through security I buy the snacks I’ll need for the trip. If I’m in town and have a busy day of meetings and errands, I’ll put together a few simple things the night before like fruit, nuts or a small sandwich.  It takes less than 5 minutes, but makes a huge impact on my energy, focus and performance the next day.

The environment on an airplane is typically very dry. It can be drying to both your skin and your internal water balance. Airlines offer beverage service and it’s in your best interest to stay away from alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Alcohol is a diuretic and may disturb your water balance. Instead of coffee or soda, order juice or water.

Being under stress and getting less sleep can tempt you into consuming caffeine or high sugar snacks to give you energy. Be aware that these will supply you with a short term amount of low-quality energy, but in the end will leave you feeling more tired and run down. Instead, opt for the combination of healthy complex carbohydrates and protein that will supply you with long-term energy. Nuts and dried fruit, energy bars, whole grain crackers and string cheese, or yogurt and fruit are a few examples.

Many people’s sleep cycles become interrupted as well, resulting in poor sleep or insomnia. You may be flying across time zones which may upset your body’s biorhythms and light cycle. More or less light can affect your pineal and pituitary glands resulting in hormone imbalance.

To get better sleep:

  • Do not watch T.V. or read in bed. The bed is only for sleeping, so if your room has two beds, use one to sit on for reading or watching T.V. and the other for sleeping.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time as you normally do if it is a short trip. If you will be in a new time zone for an extended period of time, begin on the new time zone as soon as possible.
  • Resist the temptation to use alcohol to make you relax – you may fall asleep faster, but you will wake up more often during the night.
  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants such as nicotine.
  • Exercise increases the quality of sleep, but avoid exercising right before bed (ideally several hours before).
  • Room temperature should be somewhat on the cool side.
  • Avoid eating a large meal before bed.

Exercise is also important on the road. If you currently exercise, it’s critical you keep your routine to stay balanced. Being away from home or not having access to exercise equipment does not mean you have to give up your exercise ritual. If you do not usually exercise, you may find that exercising may relieve stress and help you sleep better at night.

Since you may not have much control over your schedule or how long your day will be, it may be ideal to exercise first thing in the morning when you know you have time. Not only will it help you wake up, it will give you plenty of energy for the day. Even 10 minutes will be beneficial.

Don’t have access to a gym?  No problem!

  • Of course you can always do PowerHouse Hit the Deck™ (you had to know I was going to suggest that)
  • Go up and down the stairs. You could alternate using every step, every other, every third, etc…
  • Go for a walk
  • Go for a run
  • Walk up and down the halls at a brisk pace
  • Jump rope – a rope travels well
  • Shadow box/Kickbox
  • Do yoga
  • Do weight training with a resistance band
  • Do calisthenics in your room – push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, squats, burpees, etc…

Whether it’s ten minutes or sixty, every little bit counts. Try not to have an “all or none” approach when it comes to exercise, thinking that if you don’t have at least 30 minutes it’s not worth it. Even ten minutes of intense exercise can have a big impact on your energy levels.

You may also suffer from constipation while traveling. There are many factors that lead to decreased bowel movements: dehydration, new or different foods, lack of exercise, a different schedule and the amount of stress you are under.

To help keep your bowels regular:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Drink warm water
  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables (they have a high water and fiber content)
  • Prune juice (the old stand-by)
  • Exercise
  • Eat foods in their whole, natural state

Staying in touch with family is also vital to good health on the road. According to American Health, employees who travel are at least twice as likely to suffer from stress related problems such as anxiety and mild depression as their non-traveling colleagues. Researchers at the World Bank Health Services Department in Washington speculate this is due to family separation. Calling or emailing your friends and family should also be a part of your plan to stay healthy, balanced and well.