Air travel can be convenient and exciting, but it can wreak havoc on the immune system. The combination of recirculated air and the presence of germs can be a perfect storm for sickness to take hold. Travelers are naturally more stressed, and frazzled nerves can contribute to a lowered immune function. Impaired immunity coupled with germs from hundreds of other people almost ensures someone will end up sick — unless you’re prepared.
There is simply no way to entirely avoid germs or to maintain perfect immunity, but there are several key strategies to improve your chances of keeping your health, energy, and peace of mind while flying. Taking advantage of the latest cheap flights is only fun if you’re in good health. These six tips are simple and proven to contribute to your overall wellness by strengthening your immune system or reducing your exposure to cold-causing pathogens.
1. Sleep More Before Flying
Many travelers have already compromised their immune systems prior to boarding a plane. How? By falling behind on sleep. The exhausting process of preparing for a trip can cut into your regular sleeping schedule, leaving you dangerously under-rested. Studies have proven that sleep deprivation, even in the short term, can increase your chances of catching a cold.
Ample sleep helps to make your immune system thrive, so try not to skimp on sleep prior to a trip. Pack well-ahead of time so you aren’t tempted to pull an all-night packing session the night before you fly. By making rest a priority, you will be a step ahead of the game in the battle against airborne bugs.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
It is easy to become dehydrated when traveling by air. The busyness and bustle of taking a trip combined with the dry, pressurized plane cabin air can be a double whammy and leave your body deprived of essential moisture. Water is, naturally, the best solution for this problem — but it’s not easy to travel with large bottles of water. A trick is to take an empty liter-sized water bottle through security with you and fill it from a water fountain as soon as you get to the terminal.
Drink as much water as you can prior to boarding the plane. Every cell in your body needs water to function optimally, and your entire immune system is negatively affected by dehydration. Young children are even more prone to dehydration while traveling, so be sure to increase their water intake prior to a long flight.
3. Supplement With Antioxidants
In the battle against colds and the flu, antioxidants are a key tool. Ideally, you’ll be getting most of your antioxidant vitamins through eating a healthy diet based on whole foods and copious fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are what the body uses to protect itself against free-radicals — compounds that cause harm in the body, including depleting the immune system.
In the weeks prior to travel, consider supplementing your wholesome diet with antioxidants by taking a quality multivitamin. Some of the most common, safe antioxidant supplements are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium, all of which can be purchased at most drug stores.
4. Eat Light in Flight
When flying, it is prudent to eat light, simple meals. If you eat larger, heavier meals, your body will be burdened by the digestion of the meal. When your body is consuming its energy in digesting food, it has less energy to supply to the rest of the body’s systems, including the immune system. By eating light foods while flying, you can give your digestion a break and help your body fight pathogens.
5. Avoid Toxins While Flying
Toxins are found in our environment, in the form of air pollution, and in many of the substances, we ingest on a regular basis. When flying, try to avoid toxic substances. This includes sugar, as too much sugar has a toxic influence on the body. Caffeine in large amounts is also toxic.
Another toxin that some travelers indulge in while flying is alcohol. If you ingest alcohol while flying, your body will be using its valuable resources to process the alcohol and your immune system will be temporarily weakened. It is best to stick to simple, nutritious snacks while flying and save the toxins for when your feet are both on the ground — or, of course, avoid them altogether.
Research has shown that appropriate and correct use of a hand sanitizer works as well as washing your hands. During a flight, it is often difficult to make your way to the restroom just to wash your hands. Invest in a small bottle of hand sanitizer to take in your purse or carry-on bag, and use it before and after eating, or whenever you feel like you need that extra “clean” feeling.