Whether you’re a once-in-a-while vacationer, globe-trotter, or anywhere in between-er, staying healthy while you travel is likely high on your priority list. With more and more people hitting the proverbial road than ever before, travel-related illnesses have spiked significantly over the last decade. By taking your health into your own hands, you’ll be armed to keep travel bugs at bay. Health Coach Colleen Mulvihill shares her top three ways to stay healthy while traveling – and it all starts before you leave the house.
Strengthen Your Immune System Before You Go
Your immune system plays the biggest role in whether you get sick after being exposed to germs. It makes sense that you would want to put some extra effort into building your immune system to peak performance prior to launching for your next excursion. There are several ways to assist your body in doing just that.
First, choose a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables. You’ll want to focus on leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale. Be sure to add in citrus fruits like oranges, kiwi, and papaya, and don’t forget about red bell pepper – which contains twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. Trade your coffee for green tea a few days before departure.
Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG – a powerful antioxidant. During your travels, continue to choose plant-heavy dishes that boost immunity. Look for dishes that contain super immune building spices, like turmeric, ginger, and garlic. If you don’t see any of those on the menu, don’t be afraid to ask if the chef will create something for you from fresh ingredients. Most chefs are more than willing to accommodate.
Get plenty of sleep the week before traveling. Lack of sleep weakens your immune system. During sleep, your body performs many important processes that work to keep you healthy, such as detoxification, the rebuilding of cells, and hormone regulation. If you short-cut your body’s opportunity to do what it’s naturally programmed to do, you run the risk of hampering your immune system significantly. Stress hormones build-up, and that causes inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation leads to a whole host of both short-term, and long-term illnesses.
Sleeping well before your trip will set you up for success, but don’t forget to ‘sleep with the time-zone’ when you arrive at your destination. Jet lag can cause irregular sleep patterns from the start of your adventure. Sleep experts state that if you arrive at night – go to sleep. If you arrive during the day, get outdoors – daylight helps regulate the natural biological clock. Try to stay awake until nightfall, then go to sleep. This will help your natural production of melatonin stay in the normal range. Bring along eye masks and earplugs if you are sensitive to light and noise.
Moderate exercise is a great way to boost your immune system. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk a few times a week can have a tremendous positive impact on health. Not only does walking help to keep you fit, but it sends signals to your brain that in turn lower your cortisol – or stress hormone – levels. If you don’t exercise, you are more likely to get colds than someone who does. Walking helps to circulate those immune system warriors like white blood cells and natural killer cells.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Without knowing it, many Americans are chronically dehydrated. Every cell of your body relies on water to function at its peak. But just how much water are you truly supposed to be drinking? Here’s an easy way to figure that out: Take your body weight in pounds, divide that number in half, and then convert it to ounces. For example: Say you’re a woman who weighs 130 lbs. Half that weight would be 65 lbs. This means you should be drinking 65 ounces of water every day. This does not include other liquids like your morning coffee, your afternoon pick-me-up latte, or that glass of wine with dinner. Remember that alcohol, caffeine, and even soda can be dehydrating.
Hydrating is especially important if you are traveling by plane. Cabin air is exceptionally dry, which can leave your mucus membranes parched, making you more susceptible to cold germs and viruses. If you must have that complimentary cocktail in flight, ask for water too. Even a cup of ice, which can slowly melt throughout the flight, is a great way to get extra hydration.
If your destination is a warm or dry climate, you may want to increase your intake of water, especially while you are enjoying the outdoors. It’s best to always sip on water continuously throughout the day, rather than try to get 30 ounces at one sitting. Your body needs time to slowly absorb water – if you drink it too fast, or try to drink too much, your body will either eliminate it (you’ll be running to pee every 10 minutes) or it can even make you sick. Water intoxication is rare but use caution. If you are not used to drinking your necessary amount each day, slowly work your way up to the proper amount a little each day before your voyage.
Take a breather every day of vacay
Both literally, and figuratively… taking a breather each day of vacation can help you stay connected and grounded. Several times a day, pause and focus on the moment. Remind yourself, there is no future, no past – only now, this moment. Drink in your experience using all your senses. Notice not only the sights but connect with the smells and the sounds – even take a moment to feel for new textures like walking barefoot on a rocky coastline or touching the soft petals of native flowers. As you shift your focus toward the present moment, your brain relaxes into a meditative-like state that helps reduce the stress or anxiety that can often accompany travel.
Meditation is considered a mind-body complementary medicine and can lessen symptoms of a whole host of medical conditions. A quick, 5-minute meditation is effective in managing stress and needs no special equipment. Although there are many types of meditation, the goal is to focus your attention and relax your breathing. Deep breathing expands the lungs, reduces the tightening of neck and shoulder muscles, thereby allowing you to relax and breathe more effectively so cells are sufficiently oxygenated.
When your flight is canceled, your tour-guide leaves without you, or the tent is flooded from heavy downpours – it’s natural to feel stressed out and angry.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to stop stress in its tracks is using the ‘5-5-7 breath’. Slowly inhale for the count of 5, hold the air in your lungs for the count of 5, then slowly exhale through the count of 7. Doing the 5-5-7 breath three times in a row has been shown to reduce blood pressure, slow your heart rate, and relax racing thoughts. Keeping your stress levels low during your trip is key to staying healthy.
Using common-sense tips like washing your hands often, covering your cough or sneeze, and avoiding direct contact with sick people can also keep you in good shape while you travel. All in all, listen to your body – be kind to yourself – and know that taking a few small but powerful steps is all you need to keep the doctor away. Colleen
Speaking of healthy travel, protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is key to avoiding sunburn and preventing skin cancer. Check out these packable sun hats and women’s travel pants that are 50+ UPF.
Header Image – Photo by Atikh Bana on Unsplash