Tips for Staying Healthy When you Fly

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by Anne Dimon

How does one stay healthy when flying, especially on “long haul” flights? Dr. Nayana Suchak, family doctor with Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital says “when we change time zones that usually means sleep deficit resulting in a compromised immune system.” A weakened immune system, of course, means greater chance of “catching” a cold, flu or worse.

She says, keeping the immune system strong
is your first and most powerful defense.

In preparation for a long flight Dr. Suchak recommends adapting to local time as early as possible but that doesn’t mean if you’re exhausted in flight or following you shouldn’t take the time to nap. Sleep boosts the immune system.

The immune system also needs hydration to work at maximum capacity so she recommends minimizing the amount of alcohol intake before and during a flight because of its dehydration effects, and opting for water and plenty of it. Unless you’re flying in first or business class, you’re not likely to be offered water until well into a flight so it’s a good idea to carry your own. Just remember bottled water won’t get through security, so you’ll need to purchase once you get beyond the check point. I usually pack an empty reusable bottle ( Libre Tea Glass is a good option) in my carry-on and just fill it up once I’ve passed through security.

Popping pills

While many turn to popping Vitamin C prior to a flight, Dr. Suchak says it won’t hurt, but there’s no great evidence that it will help either. She says it’s better to stick with a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. Along with diet and drinking plenty of water, regular exercise and proper sleep habits are equally important for the immune system and especially during stress times such as prior to and following a trip. “A lot of patients come to see me within 48 hours of returning from a flight because the stress of travel does take its toll,” says Scuhak.

A travel size hand sanitizers is good to keep in your purse or briefcase, but according to the doctor, good old fashion hot water and soap will also do the trick. Due to the added risk on coming in contact with germs on the road, wash hands often, she says and keep them away from the face especially rubbing the eyes and putting fingers in your mouth – both good ways to spread the flu or worse.

Some airlines are also going the hand-sanitizer route. Cathay Pacific, for instance, hands out individually packaged anti-bacterial towels to passengers plus offers anti-bacterial soaps in onboard washrooms.

The thought of sitting next to a coughing/sneezing fellow passenger is not very appealing and neither is the recirculation of that very same air in a contained space. One can’t do too much about a coughing/sneezing passenger other than offering the offender a box of tissue hoping they get the message, but with regard to cabin air, sophisticated filtrations systems are pretty much the norm today.

Bottom line: Don’t let the stress of flying – and, of late, new airport security procedures – deter you from following your usual healthy lifestyle. Leading up to a trip continue to eat well, drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep and most of all, learn to relax and enjoy the journey.