Staying Healthy on an Airplane

It is inevitable, spend a few hours in a confined space with a couple hundred other bodies at 30-K+ ft and we are likely going to get sick, yes?

It is true that traveling carries certain risks to our health, catching a cold is not a foregone conclusion.

From reducing our exposure to germs to prepping our immune system in advance, there are a number of steps to can take while flying to limit the risk of any negative health effects.

They are as follows:

Eat right: much of staying healthy on an airplane is making sure you are in a healthy state going into the flight. If your immune system is already weak, the chances of catching something goes way up. So, you want to be sure to eating well, both in the days prior and during traveling. We know the stress of traveling, not to mention the usual time crunch, can make fast food look appealing, but do stick with healthier salads and sandwiches in transit. Or, better yet, bring your own snacks.

If you do not already take them regularly, you may also want to consider adding some vitamin supplements to your diet in the days before a flight. Something like Emergen-C is especially smart if you are prone to catching colds when traveling.

Manage Exposure to Germs: This step that starts at the airport, where the concentration of germs is actually higher than in an airplane due to the air not being changed or filtered as aggressively. While we I do not need to tell you to wash your hands regularly, it is also a good idea to bring along a travel-sized bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer. Use it before eating anything and after touching high-contact surfaces like door handles and overhead bins.

You will also want to bring disinfectant wipes in your carry-on bag. Wipe down your armrests, tray tables, and any touchscreen entertainment centers before you use them, especially if you are on one of the airlines with the best entertainment options. There is not much you can do about the germs that accumulate on the pages of a magazine except to forego the seat-back literature altogether. Bring your own book, or enjoy the rare time with nothing but your own thoughts, better bored than sneezing and a runny nose.

Stretch: Deep vein thrombosis, refers to the possibility of developing a blood clot in veins deep beneath the surface of your skin as a result of sitting in the confines of economy seats for a long period of time. While research has found there is nothing more risky than sitting immobile for hours on end.

On long flights you want to be sure you are moving periodically. If you are seated in an inside seat, take advantage of when your seatmates are in the toilet to get up and stretch your muscles. Even a brief stretch will help restore circulation, lowering the risk of a clot. While seated, flexing your calf muscles and raising and lowering your toes can promote blood flow in your legs, which are often the most likely locales for a clot.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that most people who develop blood clots while traveling have other preexisting risk factors.

There are a variety of such factors, including the following:

  • Over 40 anni
  • Obesity
  • Surgery or injury within the last three months
  • Birth control containing estrogen, including the pill, rings, and patches
  • Pregnancy and recent childbirth
  • Previous blood clot
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Varicose veins

If you have any of the above, it is important to take steps to promote blood flow while on a long flight.

Hydrate: Airplane cabins have lower humidity than most of us are used to, which makes hydration all the more essential. Bring your own empty water bottle in your carry-on bag, and fill it up once you get through security. You’ll save yourself either having to buy an overpriced drink from one of the airport shops, or from downing the tiny plastic cup in-flight and then being out of luck when you get a tickle in your drier-than-usual throat 10 mins later.

The better hydrated you are, the more often you’ll need to use the restroom, which will get you up and moving.

Both coffee and alcohol are diuretics, meaning they will dehydrate you. Leave the caffeine and and alcohol for after you land, in order to avoid becoming further dried out.

Keep in mind that the lower humidity will affect your skin as well. Bring moisturizer for your face and hands to keep them hydrated and healthy during your flight.

Get good rest: Sometimes a red eye flight is unavoidable. Add in time zone changes and a loss of your usual daily routine, and travel will disrupt your bodily rhythms.

You can mitigate those risks by making sure you are getting 7-8 hours sleep in the nights leading up to a flight whatever time of day it may be. Not only will you keep your body and immune system from becoming rundown, but you will also be better able to say no to all the airline snacks and stick to healthier choices.

Enjoy your travels