How to Stay Healthy During Flight Travel

Sky High Health

Many of my patients are travelers, both for pleasure and business. Recently, while on a plane from South Carolina I had plenty of opportunity to ponder the “non-crash” related health risks of flying. As I looked around from my coveted middle-seat assignment I saw a variety of issues that came to my attention. To begin, I had been in the air over an hour without seeing a single person pass my seat to use the spacious lavatory located at the back of the plane. This lack of traffic told me two things; that my fellow travelers do not realize the absolute detrimental effects of extended periods of sitting and that not one person had been hydrating sufficiently to warrant toilet use on an every-two-hour time schedule. I sensed there was a need for me to expound on my knowledge of how to stay healthy during flight travel. I quickly fathomed my seatmates were not the least bit interested in a “sky high health lecture” in lieu of “The Secret Life of Bees” so I resolved myself to retrieving my laptop from a small space co-habitating with my feet and endeavoring to document my insights for an easy to read editorial in our monthly newsletter. Read on.

Secrets to “Sky high Health”

  1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! Air travel dehydrates a body much more rapidly then normal activity due to the forced air circulation. Hydrating more often the day before, the day of and the day after long plane travel is essential. While traveling also consider forgoing the alcohol, coffee and soda options. These beverages can further dehydrate you and make you more susceptible to fatigue and immunosuppression.
  2. Support: Make sure you place a small pillow behind the small of your back for the duration of the flight. If you have wee legs make sure you use your briefcase or carry-on to provide a foot rest. Thighs that are pressed into the seat too firmly, due to improperly supported feet, can result in circulation issues and cramping.
  3. Move! My recommendation is to get up and move at least every 90 minutes if not more frequently. Poor seat structure and immobility can lead to leg cramps, back pain, irritability and mental fogginess. Did you know that through a concept of “propriocetion” simple movement of your spine stimulates nerve pathways that control mental clarity, immune function, blood flow and feelings of wellbeing? When your spine doesn’t move for long periods of time all of these essential functions are slowed or stopped.
  4. Dietary recommendations: An airplane is a festering colony of bacteria and viruses. You do not want to witness what I saw on TV regarding what can be colonized off a seatback tray! Try taking 1000mg of Vitamin C every four hours on the day that you fly. Also consider Melatonin if you suffer jet lag. Melatonin is an excellent way to help you transition to your new or old time zone. There are many other immune boosting supplements that you can discuss with your chiropractor if you are interested.
  5. Food: Consider lowering your sugar intake for a three day period on either side of your flight. Sugar is a lethal immunosuppressant. Pack your own snacks to insure healthy, non-contaminated ingredients that you can feel good about. Eat lots of fruits and veggies for natural immune boosters and antioxidants.
  6. Seat Exercises: Every fifteen minutes or so try one of these seat exercises to stimulate blood flow and muscle contraction so you are not stiff upon arrival.
    • March in place getting knees up as high as your seat arrangement will allow.
    • Perform ten to twenty “butt squeezes” holding each one for a count of ten
    • Push your head back against the seat while tucking your chin. Hold each “chin tuck” for counts of ten.
    • Perform gentle neck stretches by dropping your head side to side and then forward and holding each stretch for a count of ten.
    • Twist your body at the waist as far to the left as you can go and hold for counts of ten. Also perform this spinal twist to the right side.
    • Grasp one knee and pull it as close to same side shoulder as possible for a count to ten and then take same knee and pull it to the opposite shoulder for a count of ten.
  7. Lavatory Exercises: (No, I am not kidding!) Walk inconspicuously to the back of the plane. I have found the attendants to be quit amenable to me standing practically in the gallyway in order to do a couple of stretches. If this is absolutely impossible you can perform most of these from inside the confined space of an airplane bathroom. (Except the Horizon flight to Portland, that bathroom is small!)
    • Standing, bend over and hang as far as you can to approximate your toes. This is excellent for blood flow and stretching your hamstrings.
    • Stand up on your toes and then rock back on your heels several times.
    • Grasp your ankle from behind and bring it toward your same side butt muscle. Excellent stretch for the front of the thighs. Hold for counts of twenty and repeat on the other side.
    • Side-bend, running your fingers down one outside seam of your pants and then the other. Hold each stretch for a count of twenty.
    • Finally, WIGGLE. I mean it! Wiggle around as much as you can like you have ants in your pants. Any movement will stimulate blood flow and proprioception to your brain.
  8. Sleeping: If you choose to sleep on a flight make sure your head is properly supported and does not have the opportunity to flop from side to side. A U-Shaped pillow can be a most helpful carry-on. Don’t forget your low back pillow placement mentioned above. Eye-masks and ear plugs also help with a more restful sleep.

My husband and I love to travel. I find however, he meanders off frequently when I start my yoga stretches on the floor of the airport prior to boarding, and I suspect he pretends he doesn’t know me when I board with three one point five liter bottles of water, several doses of Vitamin C, homemade healthy snacks, melatonin, and a small pillow. I would say however, he does appreciate the infrequency of health issues that we suffer as frequent flyers.

As my plane from South Carolina meanders through the sleepy sky toward Seattle I must complete my writing assignment, put my laptop aside and head for the back of the plane. I will find a small space where I can spend just a few moments bending and wiggling my way back to a healthier me before we land. Happy flying!

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