How to Stay Healthy During Holiday Flights

How to Stay Healthy During Holiday Air Travel

Instead of dreading holiday flights, prepare for the trip and embrace the experience. Simple things like staying hydrated and limiting caffeine can help.


Air travel is one more thing that can add to holiday stress. But, come on, let's try and start with a mindset not of dread and pessimism, but excitement. You get to soar through the air like Santa in his sleigh, minus the reindeer, arriving in hours, not days. Plus, there are beverages, pretzels and movies. I still get excited by air travel in these amazing high-tech machines with excellent safety records!

Don't be a Scrooge about air travel. Embrace it! How lucky are we? Our ancestors took boats, horses and covered wagon trips that lasted for months. Everyone can deal with a few hours. Feel better? 

Read more about improving your health during the holidays.

Having said that, here's what you can do to make the most of your trip and prevent some of the issues that arise when packed into a plane with crying babies and strangers this holiday season.

Plan Ahead

Start drinking plenty of water the day before. Air travel is very drying because the humidity in the aircraft is low—10 percent to 20 percent—rather than the 30 percent to 65 percent that most people find comfortable. In this dry environment, moisture evaporates rapidly from your body, which can lead to dehydration. This includes your throat and nose, where the fine cilia fibers have a harder time sweeping out viruses and bacteria, making you more susceptible to contracting a respiratory illness.

Bring your empty water bottle for an airport fill-up and pack your carry-on bag with healthy snacks like veggies, trail mix or protein bars. An alcoholic drink can be relaxing, but it adds to dehydration. 

Other helpful items include:

  • disinfectant wipes 

  • hand sanitizer

  • facial tissues

  • cough drops

  • gum (chewing helps equalize inner ear pressure; a pacifier works for babies and toddlers)

  • earplugs or earphones

  • blanket, travel pillow, eye mask

  • noise-canceling headphones

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth while traveling because this is how germs get from your hands into your system. Use alcohol wipes or hand sanitizers with 70 percent alcohol. 

Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis

Flying can put you at a greater risk for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) because you are sitting with knees bent for a long time. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in the deep leg veins. It can become very dangerous if the clot breaks off and moves through the bloodstream causing an embolism.

The risk is relatively low (higher if you have varicose veins), but everyone should be aware of a few simple precautions: no tight stockings or body shapers, bend and straighten your ankles and knees frequently, rotate your ankles and flex your feet, stand and walk the aisle if possible to improve your circulation. Hang out near the tail end of the plane, walking in place for 5 to 10 minutes if there's no turbulence. Movement helps your circulation.

Flying also makes your blood pressure go up. If you are on hypertension medication, make sure you have taken it as directed before flying. Go easy on the salty snacks and avoid alcohol. I have had several in-air emergency calls for nurses or doctors for people who drank a little too much and skipped their medication. Please don't be the reason for a medically induced emergency landing!

Avoid Jet Lag

Though most of us don't have the flexibility to do this, slowly changing the time that you go to sleep and when you wake up in the weeks before your travel can move your sleep pattern closer to that of your destination, making adjusting to a new time zone much easier.

Another strategy is to get outside as soon as possible. Your internal clock reacts to sunlight. Going out for a brisk walk in the sunshine upon arrival will help your body adjust. Even if there's no sunshine, you can exercise at a gym, take a yoga class or go for a swim to help you adjust. 

Limit Caffeine

Coffee, espresso and caffeinated teas and sodas may help keep you awake and able to join the party for a while longer, but beware of overdoing it. Too much caffeine can keep you awake just when your body desperately needs sleep to recover. Consider a two-hour nap instead. It's just enough to keep you up a little later, helping you get closer to syncing up with the new time zone.

Adjust With Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in our brain, helping to control our daily sleep-wake cycles. Our circadian rhythm (our internal sleep/wake clock) influences how much melatonin the pineal gland makes, as does the amount of light exposure we get.

Melatonin levels start to rise in the evening and stay elevated for most of the night while we're in the dark. Then, they drop in the early morning with exposure to daylight, helping to wake us.

As a treatment for jet lag and insomnia, melatonin is considered safe and fairly effective.

The right timing in taking melatonin is important. Small doses of 2 to 3 milligrams should be taken 30 minutes to an hour before your desired bedtime. Be sure to check with your health care provider before using this or any new medications, herbs or alternative therapies. They may interact with other medications or cause side effects.

I hope you have a healthy and happy holiday and safe travels!

This blog originally appeared on Nurse Barb. Barb Dehn is a women's health nurse practitioner, award-winning author and nationally recognized health expert. She practices with Women Physicians in the Silicon Valley of California.

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