More than 100 million Americans – one-third of the country – will be traveling this holiday season. Whether it’s a trip to see family or getting in a vacation as things slow down at the end of the year, travelers are sure to hit the roads and pack the airports in November and December. If you will be one of them this year, be sure to keep in mind a few, simple things you can do to stay healthy as you travel.
Get Your Flu Shot
“If you’re traveling and trying to enjoy the holidays with family, the last thing you want is to get sick,” says Dr. John Thurmond,III, a doctor of Internal Medicine. Unfortunately, travel means time in crowded airplanes, airports and trains – some of the best places to catch a bug. The holiday season also coincides with flu season, which makes getting the flu shot one of the most important steps you can take to guard against illness this time of the year.”
Hopefully, you have already gotten a flu shot this year – if not, get one right away. Remember, it takes two weeks for the flu shot to be fully effective, so you want to get it as soon as possible. Flu season runs from October – April.
Wash Your Hands Often
One of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of germs that cause illness, including the common cold and stomach bugs, is to wash our hands frequently. Unfortunately, many of us don’t wash our hands often enough or do it correctly.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following is the correct way to wash one’s hands:
“Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song from beginning to end twice.
Rinse your hands well under running water.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.”
“Washing your hands the right way is important year-round, but especially when traveling,” says Dr. Jennifer McLeland, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist. “Our hands come in contact with a lot of germ-ridden surfaces, such as escalator handrails and taxi door handles. The best ways to combat these germs are to avoid touching your face and wash your hands frequently.”
It’s also a good idea to carry some hand sanitizer with you, as long as you don’t use it as a substitute for hand-washing. Use soap and water whenever possible, but when that’s not feasible, hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol is a good backup.
If you’re flying, be sure to drink plenty of water. The dry air in a plane cabin can contribute to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water is important to your health.
Get Up and Move
Whether you’re traveling by plane or car, sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for you. When we sit, our calf muscles don’t contract, causing blood to not circulate as it normally would. Extended sitting is a risk factor for developing deep vein thrombosis, a condition in which blood clots form in the veins in the legs.
“If you’re on a flight, try to get up and walk around or stand periodically, as long as the flight crew says it’s OK to do so,” says Dr. Fysal Albaalbaki, a Nephrologist. “If you can’t stand up, exercise your legs by extending them, moving them up and down and moving your ankles in a circular motion. This will help promote circulation in your legs. The same rule applies if you’re in a car. Stop every hour or two to walk around. Not only will this help your circulation, it will also help keep the driver alert.”
Don’t Abandon Your Diet
The stress and hurried schedule that travel often brings, coupled with the large, rich meals we tend to eat around the holidays, can wreak havoc on diet discipline. But with a little bit of planning, this doesn’t have to be the case, says Dr. Kathleen Cammack, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist.
“To start with, try to avoid the situations that lead to eating large, unhealthy meals,” she says. “If you know you’ll be hungry on the plane, bring a snack of fruit or nuts along, as opposed to grabbing a candy bar or bag of chips at the airport. Stay as close to your usual meal times as possible and make the effort to seek out a healthy meal option, while avoiding overeating.”
Contrary to common belief, the average person does not gain five or more pounds over the holidays. That’s the good news – it’s closer to one pound, on average. However, studies have shown that one pound does not come off; it stays with us throughout our lives. This leads to a cumulative lifetime weight gain that is both significant and unhealthy.
“A lot of times, we’ll put ourselves in the mindset of ‘I’m on vacation, so the calories don’t count,’” says Dr. McLeland. “Unfortunately, they do still count. And while it’s perfectly fine to splurge somewhat, just try not to overdo it.”
Exercise on the Road
Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you have to give up on your exercise routine. Remember, you don’t need a gym or special equipment to get in some physical activity.
“Walking is one of the best things you can do for yourself no matter where you are,” says Dr. Robert Reddix, Jr., an Orthopedic Surgeon. “Go for a walk in the morning before you start your day or try walking short distances instead of driving,” he suggests.
You can also maintain a strength-training regimen. “Whether you’re in a hotel room or your mom’s guest bedroom, you can always do some pushups and sit-ups,” says Dr. Reddix. “And if you want to take it to the next step, pack a resistance band or two in your luggage – they take up hardly any space at all and provide a great way to maintain a strength-training program.”
Getting in some exercise on the road is good for you and will help work off any extra calories you may be consuming. It’s also a good tool to combat stress, which many people experience this time of year.
Healthy Travels & Happy Holidays
Whether your holiday plans are taking you on the road or keeping you close to home, Texas Health Care physicians want you to stay safe and healthy this holiday season. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves this time of the year, and it is easy to lose sight of what the holiday season is supposed to be about. Hopefully, it means time with those you are closest to and an opportunity to slow down a little bit. By making your health and well-being part of your holiday and travel planning, you will enjoy the season even more.
From all of us at Texas Health Care, Happy Holidays!
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