The Richmond Register

October 6, 2013

How to travel healthfully

By Dr. Jack Rutherford
Register Columnist

RICHMOND — Airplane travel isn’t fun anymore.

Long lines for passenger processing and airport security, combined with frequent delays and lost luggage make for an annoying and stressful experience.

And if it’s an early flight, you can add tired and sleep-deprived to that list.

Often, as you race for that early morning flight, you suddenly realize that cup of strong coffee won’t hold off your hunger pangs for the entire three-hour flight. It’s then you curse yourself for not eating a healthy breakfast, but that didn’t seem to be a priority when you awoke at 3:00 am.

Airports understand your lack of planning. They tempt you with hot cinnamon buns, greasy breakfast sandwiches, cappuccinos, and other pre-packaged foods that will crash your blood sugar.

So what’s a weary traveler to do? Answer. A prepared traveler is a healthy traveler. The following strategies will help you arrive feeling better and healthier with more money in your pocket.

Plan your meals and snacks in advance. Bring along small bags of nuts, dried fruit, and trail mix on which to snack. On airport layovers, choose meals with plenty of lean protein, healthy fats, and leafy vegetables such as a chicken or tuna salad.

Eating the right food combination will keep your blood sugar steady and your hunger in check.

Stay hydrated. Instead of heading to the airport coffee kiosk for a caffeine pick-me-up, take an empty water bottle and fill up once you’ve cleared the security check-in. Caffeine plus flying equals a double-dehydration problem.

Take exercise breaks whenever you can.

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to an airport exercise area, take advantage and use it on layovers. If not, try a few stretches, squats and lunges while you’re waiting to board the plane. Airport stairs are another great option. Skip the escalators and walk the stairs as quickly as you can for a mini-cardio workout.

Of course, choosing function over fashion by wearing sneakers or other comfortable shoes is essential.

Get as much sleep as you can. If you can sleep on an airplane, do it. If you can’t, and the best you can hope for is a power nap, take advantage because every little bit helps optimize your hormone levels, including the feel-good serotonin. You want to arrive fresh and feeling as good as possible.

Chill out, don’t stress out. While that’s easier said than done when dealing with flight delays, missed connections and overly demanding security agents, you need to rationalize that much of what happens is out of your control.

Getting anxious and frustrated just elevates your stress hormone cortisol, which puts your body in overdrive. Among other things, cortisol breaks down muscle and stores fat.

As the saying goes, “take a chill pill.” You can do that by breathing deeply and diverting your frustration to another time with a good book.

Keep germs at bay. Carry a hand-sanitizer and use it after you touch surfaces in the plane or airport and before eating. It will reduce the risk of infectious disease.

Have a safe and healthy flight.