5 Ways to Stay Healthy When Traveling

5 Ways to Stay Healthy When Traveling

by Megan, selected from Experience Life

I don’t care what that old cliché says. Ask  anyone who travels on a regular  basis  and they’ll tell you: Getting there is  most definitely not half  the fun. At least  not if you’re a health-conscious person. Traveling, whether  for business  or pleasure, can wreak havoc on everything from  your meticulous  workout routine to your measured-down-to-the-last-carb          eating plan. The  result is a potential double whammy.  Not only do you feel less than your best   self while on your trip, you may also find that, upon  returning, you’ve lost  the motivation and momentum to return to your  healthy habits.

While keeping in shape and eating well on the road can be challenging,  it’s  far from impossible. Particularly if you’ve been more or less on  the straight  and narrow while at home. “If you’re already exercising,  eating right and  sleeping decently, you’ll have a solid foundation to  stay healthy and deal with  the stress you confront when traveling,” says  Alisa Cohn, an executive coach in  Brookline, Mass. So before you add  another mile to your frequent-flier tally,  heed the  following healthy-travel tips, which take you from pre-takeoff to   post-touchdown and everything in between.

Arrive in Good Shape Whether you’re going by plane,  train or automobile, you can usually  count on one thing: encountering some  surprises and setbacks. In terms  of logistics, it might be a delayed train, a  massive traffic jam or a  lost suitcase. In terms of your  personal regimen, it  might be a missed meal or an especially  uncomfortable hotel room. That’s no  reason to stay home, of course; you  just need to adjust your  everything-will-be- flawless expectations.

“Before you head out the door, accept that obstacles will pop up, and  have a  strategy to deal with them,” says Cohn. Long lines at the  airport? Bring  reading or listening materials (books on tape are ideal)  to pass the time. A  two-hour stop on the tarmac before you even take  off? Engage in a series of  deep breaths to center yourself, then pull  out a notebook and start writing  some of those long-put-off letters to  dear old friends.

Even if your trip is a best-case scenario, you need to be especially  mindful  of your physical health. If you’re flying, staying hydrated is  your No. 1  priority. Most plane cabins have between 10 and 20 percent  humidity, which puts  them on  a par with most of the world’s deserts. To counteract the  aridness,  which can sap your energy, squelch your immune system and slow  your blood flow,  drink half an ounce of water for every pound you  weigh, per day. (This formula  applies once you touch ground, too – the  more hydrated you are, the better your  body and mind will function.)

It might also be wise to bring your own supply of H2O; a recent study  from  the Environmental Protection Agency found that one in eight  airplanes – or  nearly 13 percent of the domestic and international  airline fleet – has water  that fails to meet U.S. safety standards.

Skip caffeine and alcohol, as they further dehydrate you. Instead, when  the  beverage cart comes around, ask for cranberry or orange juice.  “Cranberry juice  is full of antioxidants and is a quick boost to your  immune system,” says  Philip Goglia, founder of Performance Fitness  Concepts, a nutrition and fitness  clinic in Los Angeles. (It’s also full  of sugar, though, so don’t overdo it.)  An 8-ounce glass of orange juice  contains a solid dose of vitamin C (good for  immunity, which can suffer  during travel), plus 400 to 500 milligrams (mg) of  valuable potassium.  The body excretes excessive amounts  of potassium and  sodium during long flights, according to Johnson Space  Center researchers,  which can lead to decreased muscle strength and  diminished physical and mental  reflexes.

Or consider another good, low-cal drink option with a vitamin and  mineral  boost: Stow a few packets of Emer’-gen-C drink mix in your  carry-on. Pour a  packet in a big bottle of water before you take off and  you’ll have your  beverage needs handled for the entire flight.

Nowadays, the food on planes is as scarce as it is scary, so be sure to   bring along enough wholesome food and snacks to hold you over (pack some  snacks  for the airport, too, so those hubcap-size cinnamon buns or  king-size bags of  Fritos won’t tempt you). Strive for lighter and more  nutritious foods that can  handle a few hours without refrigeration, like  raisins, string cheese, trail  mix, individual packets of applesauce or a  pita filled with spinach and goat  cheese.

Because traveling requires long bouts of sitting, periodically standing  up,  walking around and stretching are vital to keeping your blood  flowing freely  and your body functioning optimally. On an airplane, you  should get up and move  around at least once an hour and, in a car, stop  at least every two hours for a  stretch break. If you’re stuck in your  seat, try to move your legs regularly.  Flex and point your toes, do  circles with your ankles, extend your legs at the  knees. For another  good seated stretch, place your left hand on the  middle of  your right thigh and twist your head, neck and back until you  feel a good  stretch in your back. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the  opposite side. Stay  active on the ground too: While waiting for your  flight, walk around the  concourse. You’ll have plenty of sitting time on  the plane.

Make Time to Sweat Once you reach your destination, you  might feel tired or  jet-lagged, but keep in mind that when you’re on the road,   exercise is the best way to keep your energy levels high and stress at bay, says  Suzanne Schlosberg, author of Fitness for Travelers: The Ultimate Workout  Guide for the Road (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). Also, when your days are  filled with  dawn-to-dusk business meetings or other activities, your exercise  time  might be the only peaceful moments you have to yourself.

To reap the benefits of exercise, though, you have to make it a priority  and  schedule it into your daily itinerary. “Doing it first thing in the  morning is  the best way to guarantee you’ll get a workout in,” says  Gregory Florez, a  personal trainer and spokesperson for the American  Council on Exercise.

  • If possible, book a hotel with at least a basic gym. No dice?  Use your  room. Bring along exercise bands, which can double as dumbbells  for weight  training, a Pilates ring, a yoga video or DVD (call ahead to  see if rooms have  VCRs or DVD players) or a jump rope.
  • Not into  packing your own equipment? Ask the front desk for a map of the  area  and recommendations for walking and running routes.
  • Bad weather? Hit the hotel stairs or do a strength routine in your room using just your body weight. Schlosberg recommends a circuit of pushups, triceps dips, back extensions, crunches (both regular and twisting, to work your obliques), lunges and heel raises. Do eight to 20 repetitions of each move.
  • Pack your fitness essentials: running or cross-training  shoes, socks, a  sweat- wicking shirt, shorts and, for women, a sports  bra. If you’ll be  exercising outside, depending on the temperature, you  might need sweatpants,  running tights, a windbreaker or heavier jacket, a  hat and a pair of gloves.  Don’t forget your heart-rate monitor. (OK, so  you may have to pack an extra  bag, but it will be worth it.)
  • If  you’re a dedicated exerciser who follows a tried-and-true routine,   reset your expectations for workouts on the road. An all-or-nothing  attitude is  nothing but trouble when time is tight and so many factors  are out of your  control. “Aim to maintain – not improve – your fitness  level,” advises  Florez.
  • If you have only 30  minutes, and you’re used to an hourlong workout, dial  up the intensity by adding intervals to cardio sessions.
  • One  last tip: Schedule a quick workout as soon as you arrive. It will help   you lose that restless, groggy feeling you get from sitting too long,  and it  will also improve your chances of sleeping well that night. Try  to arrive early  enough so you can check into your room, drop your  luggage and don your workout  wear. It doesn’t have to be a long workout –  even 15 minutes will make a huge  difference. “But doing it right away  is critical,” says Florez, “otherwise,  your chances of exercising  dissipate dramatically. Once you begin to check  email, switch on the TV  or start making arrangements with friends or   colleagues, it’s all over.”

Eat Right and Often With a Burger King beckoning at  every freeway exit and  airport concourse, and executive-dining establishments  serving up giant  portions of heavy food, traveling can set you up for weight  gain. The  key here is to be strategic, and to use the support systems at your   disposal.

The cardinal rule: Don’t wait to eat until you’re really hungry. “If you  do,  it’s a guarantee you’ll overeat when you get the chance,” says  nutritionist  Goglia. In the morning, don’t leave your hotel without  eating an energizing,  healthy breakfast. Goglia advises setting up a  standing room-service delivery  of oatmeal or eggs and fresh fruit. On  your day of arrival, ask that it be  delivered at a specific time every  morning, so you don’t have to think of it  the night before. If you know  that stopping for lunch might not be possible,  request a box lunch –  like a grilled chicken sandwich, fresh fruit and an  oatmeal cookie – to  be delivered when your breakfast arrives.

When you head out for the day, bring along a few  nutritious snacks – such as  raw almonds, raisins, apples, bananas or  oranges – and munch on them throughout  the day to fend off hunger  attacks. Room service not an option? Hit the local  grocery store and  load up on bananas, apples, trail mix, whole-grain crackers,  bottled  water and other nonperishables to keep in your room. Don’t be afraid to  offload some of the stuff in your minibar to make space for your  self-supplied  yogurt, juice or hardboiled eggs.

At dinner, the trick is to avoid getting stuffed with oversized servings   that can exacerbate jet lag and other digestive woes. Begin with a  broth-based  soup, salad or veggie-based appetizer, advises Chris  Filardo, MS, RD, of the  Produce for Better Health Foundation in  Wilmington, Del.

“Studies have shown that you eat about the same volume of food every  day,”  she says, “but the caloric content can vary greatly based on the  choices you  make, so fill up with low-density salad and soup before  diving into your more  substantial entrée.”

If you’re not particularly hungry, consider ordering two appetizers in  place  of an entrée (of course, if all they have is popcorn shrimp and  buffalo wings,  don’t bother). If you’re up for both dinner and dessert,  play a game of  if/then: If you’re craving a huge steak, order one – but  then choose berries or  similar fruit for dessert. If you’re drooling  over a slab of chocolate cake,  have it – but go with grilled fish and  steamed veggies for your entrée.

Catch Some Z’s Sleep is as vital to your health as  proper exercise and nutrition, but  it’s a much less tangible goal when  traveling. “You can’t will yourself  to go to sleep if you’re not tired,” says  B. T. Westerfield, MD,  president of the Kentucky Sleep Society. You can,  however, lower the  barriers to a good night’s slumber, which include, among  other things,  jet lag, an uncomfortable pillow and external noise.

When it comes to jet lag, realize that for every time zone you travel   through, it generally takes your body a day to adjust. Going from  Chicago to  Minneapolis won’t throw you out of whack, but flying from  Philadelphia to  Seattle will. If it’s possible, plan on arriving a day  or two before any big  meetings so you can adjust, advises Westerfield.  There are also some measures  you can take to minimize jet lag.

  • About  a week before your trip, adjust your schedule at home to slowly   integrate the new time zone. If you’re flying from the East Coast to the  West  Coast, for instance, stay up an hour later than normal. (If you’re  flying in  the opposite direction, get up an hour earlier than usual.)
  • On  travel day, try to schedule your flight so you arrive in the early   evening and then stay up until 10 p.m. If that’s not possible, and you  arrive  in the morning or afternoon and need a nap, take one no longer  than two hours,  and no closer than five hours before bedtime. You might  also try an  anti-jet-lag homeopathic remedy ( www.nojetlag.com) or anti-jet-lag diet ( www.antijetlagdiet.com) for additional support.
  • If  you have trouble sleeping that first night or two, you can opt for a   natural sleep aid like melatonin. Take 3 mg to 5 mg about three hours  before  you wish to sleep,  suggests Westerfield. Several studies have found that  melatonin can be  effective for preventing or reducing jet lag, particularly for  crossing  five or more time zones and when traveling east, according to the   National Sleep Foundation.
  • Exercise before you travel and right  when you arrive, according to a  University of Toronto study. Also soak  up some sun as soon as you land. Natural  sunlight is the best way to  reset your internal clock.
  • At night, follow your usual bedtime  routine, says Eileen McGill, the sleep  concierge at New York City’s  Benjamin Hotel. “If you always read or shower  before bed, do the same  thing on the road,” she says. And bring some  personal  items from home to re-create your regular environment. If  you’re attached to a  pillow from home, pack it. Bring a favorite,  soothing bedside picture and some  lavender essential oil to freshen a  stale-smelling room and scent your linens  before bed.
  • If you’re a  sensitive sleeper, consider accessories like an eye mask to  block out  light and a sound machine to  provide a soothing background of “white  noise.” Foam earplugs have saved  many a traveler located too close to a noisy  ice machine, elevator or  intersection.
  • If you’re tense, take a warm bath to work out the kinks. Finally, ask for an  extra blanket and then set the  thermostat to a sleep-enhancing mid-60s, advises  McGill. A too-hot room will have you tossing all night.

Aim for a Righteous Reentry You’ve successfully survived  your trip and are on the way home. But  don’t make the mistake of thinking that  your trip ends when you walk  through the door and plunk your luggage down. You  need to make a smooth  transition into your regular life, and that requires some  forethought.

Try to allow yourself a day for reentry into the real world before  returning  to work. For example, if you have to work on Monday, then come  home on  Saturday. If you are returning  to a significant other or small children, stop  thinking about work on  the trip home from the airport and focus on the people  who will greet  you. “If your kids or your spouse tumble out of the house to  meet you,  and you’re still working in your head, that’ll just cause unneeded   aggravation,” says Libby Mills, a Philadelphia-based lifestyle coach.

If you’ll be coming home to an empty house, straighten it up before you   leave (being greeted by chaos and dirty dishes is a huge energy drain).  Have  some kind of quick, healthy meal available, like an organic frozen  dinner or  pasta with steamed vegetables, so you’re not tempted to call  Domino’s. Drink a  big glass of water to rehydrate and go for a 20- to  40-minute brisk walk to  clear your head.

If you’ve traveled long or far, give yourself a break when it comes to   diving back into your regular fitness routine, advises personal trainer  Florez.  You may be unmotivated or jet-lagged for the first few days, and  pushing  yourself too hard could backfire, sapping your energy and  lowering your  immunity. “On your first day back, aim for half your  normal workout and  remember to devote a good amount of time to  stretching,” says Florez.  “Stretching helps work out muscle tension and  the accumulated physical and  mental stress that come with travel.”

For the next two to three days, strive for 10 to 15 percent less intensity  than your usual routine, then resume your  regular sessions at full strength.  “However, if you’re feeling unusual fatigue or muscle soreness, dial it back  again for  at least two more days,” Florez says. Otherwise, you risk  both  additional fatigue and an injury, which could set you back significantly.

The last step: Take stock of what went well on your  trip, and what could  have gone better. Were there specific  things you wished you had brought along  or planned for? Keep a running  pack-and-plan travel list on your  computer,  then adjust it following each voyage. Tape the list to your  carry-on so you’ll  have it on hand when you prepare to go again.

Prepare well, harvest your own insight, heed your own advice and, before  long, you’ll have healthy travel down to a science.

Dimity McDowell is a freelance writer who specializes in sports and  fitness.

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