American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Five Tips for Healthy Airplane Travel

Boy in airplaneAs spring break approaches, some people will be heading to the airport to embark on a relaxing trip in an exotic location. While traveling by air does allow more time to spend at your destination, it can take a toll on your body.

“In theory, spring break should be a rejuvenating break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” says Kelli M. Ward, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician in Kingman, Arizona. “However, I see many patients who come back from trips with a cold or flu.”

Dr. Ward shares five tips for staying healthy while traveling by airplane:

  1. Have a healthy immune system before you leave. While traveling by plane is the quickest mode of transportation for long trips, you are also in a small space with large groups of people who may or may not be sick. Give your immune system a boost before your trip even starts by making sure you are well rested, eating right and getting lots of exercise.

  2. Avoid stomach problems. While traveling many people find themselves dealing with the uncomfortable problems of diarrhea or constipation, which are often caused by changes in diet. While a slice of pizza or a burger might be tempting while waiting for your flight, eat a salad or something rich in fiber to avoid stomach problems later. Once you reach your destination, try to abide by your normal diet as much as possible. An occasional splurge is acceptable during vacations, so have some treats, but make sure the majority of your meals contain fruit, vegetables and protein.

  3. Stay hydrated. A cocktail might sound relaxing once you are in the air, but it can also cause dehydration. Planes are dry to begin with and alcohol only worsens the effects, possibly leading to headaches and drowsiness. If you really want a drink, have only one during the flight and balance it out with two glasses of water.

  4. Stretch your legs. Most people become uncomfortable after sitting during a long flight, but it is especially important for pregnant women to stretch during even a short flight. Expectant mothers should try to get up every hour and walk up the aisle to help prevent swelling. And they should avoid salty foods—like peanuts and pretzels—and instead bring their own fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water.

  5. Carry on your germ defense army. As you pack your carry-on bag, make sure you have a few essentials to help you stay healthy in-flight such as a small bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, tissues, eye drops and lip balm. You are more likely to touch your eyes and lips and carry germs to your face if they are dry. Dr. Ward also advises bringing your own pillow and blanket on board instead of using those handed out by the airline, which have been used by other passengers who could be sick.

If you have any health concerns before traveling, Dr. Ward encourages you to visit with your physician.

If you don't have a physician, consider Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs. They look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.​​​​


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