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Summer Travel and Your Health

The approach of warmer weather has many of us thinking about summer vacation travel and the opportunity to explore new places and meet new people. Unfortunately, in our travel planning too many of us fail to consider those things that will make our future travel not only interesting and enjoyable, but also a healthy time. Preparing now can minimize the chances of a health problem ruining your travel enjoyment.

Most of our travel planning, quite naturally, goes into deciding what places we want to visit, how we'll get there, where we'll stay, what we'll do, and the numerous other decisions involved in almost any trip. Whether it's a 300-mile drive or a 10-hour plane trip to the other side of the world, there are decisions to be considered and plans to be made. Be sure to start early in thinking about your health and how it relates to your upcoming travel.

Are You in Shape for Your Travel Plans?

It's easy to forget that even the most leisurely vacation may entail higher levels of physical activity than we're normally used to. While your travel plans may center on lounging on a beautiful beach, once the actual vacation begins you may find that you're much more active than you originally planned.

You may discover opportunities for hiking or biking once you're on the road, or come across historical sites or commercial tourist attractions that require long walks and extended time on your feet. For a young, active adult in good health this should present no problems. But if you're a little older, or not as active as you used to be, or are facing current health problems, even one busy vacation day can leave you with enough aches and pains to make the remainder of your trip much less pleasurable than you had hoped it would be. And the temptations of travel and seeing or doing something new often makes us put caution aside and do more than we're normally used to doing.

That's why starting a program now of moderate exercise will help you better enjoy whatever upcoming travel plans you have. Remember to first check with your physician, especially if you have any physical problems or currently have little physical activity in your daily life. Just a daily walk now can help ensure that you'll be able to stay up with the group as you tour that old battlefield or historic church on this summer's trip.

If you currently aren't very active, and you have your doctor's okay, start off slowly to increase your level of physical activity. Day One might be just a stroll to the corner, while by Day Five you may be up to a brisker walk around the block. Start slowly, and don't overdo, but gradually keep adding more effort and intensity and you'll soon find you're feeling more fit and confident about your physical abilities.

Can You Change Those Bad Health Habits?

Planning for upcoming travel is also a good time to move to a healthier lifestyle. Increased physical activity, of course, is a great step in that direction. Your upcoming travel can also be a good incentive to stop smoking if you are currently a smoker. Not only is finding a place to smoke harder in many places these days, but the health benefits that come from stopping smoking are simply enormous.

From helping you to breath better for the rigors of travel to reducing your risk for DVT (deep vein thrombosis - the formation of blood clots that sometimes can occur on long driving trips or airplane flights), not smoking offers real health benefits to every person. And, for the long term, not smoking also means lower risk for several forms of cancer, heart disease, strokes and numerous other health issues. Talk to your physician now about the programs and medical help that's available to help you in smoking cessation.

If you're currently overweight that can be another health issue that can make summer travel more difficult. The rigors of most travel today, whether going by airplane or driving yourself, cause most of us more than enough stress already. Your body doesn't need the extra stress and work that excess weight requires. A sensible plan of healthy eating and slow weight loss can leave you feeling ready to really enjoy all the opportunities that a summer trip may bring. And even if there isn't enough time to get down to your ideal weight (and weight loss should be slow - in most cases no more than a pound a week), shedding even a few excess pounds will have you feeling better about yourself and more capable of enjoying your travel, both the planned and unexpected activities.

Focusing on developing healthy eating now can also help combat the extra pounds that may creep on during travel. Whether it's the temptations of a cruise ship's buffets or the larger servings and heavier foods that often come with eating out, start thinking now about how to avoid having your vacation turn into a nutritional disaster.

One simple way is to start paying more attention now to what you eat and how much you eat. There's no need to avoid favorite foods or to have to deprive yourself of fun eating experiences once you're on your trip. Instead, learn how to balance your daily food intake, planning for a light lunch, for example, when you know dinner is going to be an enjoyable, but high-calorie experience. Establishing healthy eating patterns now makes it easier to eat healthier when on the road and in dietary situations that offer extra temptations.

Don't Let Travel Inactivity Endanger Your Health

The actual act of traveling today, though it may get you relatively quickly from one place to another, usually requires a great amount of inactivity on your part. Whether it's being long waits in airports, being strapped in a narrow airplane seat for hours, or passively sitting in a car watching the miles go by, modern travel requires very little physical activity. And that can present a health risk for many people.

The problem is commonly called "economy class syndrome." Although named for the cramped seating space available in economy class on most airplanes, it isn't a health issue confined to only airplane travel. The lack of movement as you sit on long trips, whether in a plane, a car, a bus or train, encourages the pooling of blood in your legs. In some cases that can also lead to the formation of blood clots in the veins of the leg. To a traveler on a long airplane flight it might just seem like a cramp in the calf muscles, but it actually might be a blood clot.

In most cases such clots present no danger, with the clot dissolving and the pain disappearing once you're up and walking around again. But in some cases a portion of the clot may break off before it is able to dissolve, with that clot traveling through the circulatory system to the lungs where it can lodge as a pulmonary embolism. Such embolisms may only cause minor pain and shortness of breath in people, or they may become a much more serious health problem, blocking a pulmonary artery and leading to heart complications and possibly even death.

While that all adds up to a lot of bad news, the good news is that such clots and embolisms are usually easy to avoid. On long airplane flights, for example, simply getting up and taking a short walk up and down the aisle will help minimize the risk for such problems. So will doing some simple leg stretches and ankle rotations as you sit in your seat. Such activity stimulates the leg muscles, helping them to better pump the blood through the veins of your leg and avoid the pooling of blood that might otherwise occur.

Similar activity can also help prevent leg problems on long car trips. Instead of driving for long stretches of time, make it a habit to stop every hour or two for just a short break. Take that opportunity to get out, stretch and take even just a short walk. That not only can helps avoid possible blood clots, but will also help keep you more alert and focused on your driving when you get back on the road.

Other suggestions that help minimize the risk for economy class syndrome include wearing loose fitting clothing, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and taking the time to massage your legs and feet periodically to help stimulate circulation.

An important tool to help fight economy class syndrome, no matter your mode of travel, is a good pair of compression travel hosiery. Available today in a variety of styles and colors, these support hose are a stylish way to provide graduated pressure that helps discourage the pooling of blood in your legs during periods of inactivity. The gentle pressure of the travel support hose assists the natural movement of the blood in your legs back up to your lungs and heart. Combine the use of such travel support hose with regular activity for your legs and feet as you travel and you'll be doing a great deal to minimize your risk for travel-related leg problems. And planning ahead in this case simply means remembering to order several pair of travel support hose before you leave on that trip. Not only will that minimize the health risks associated with the inactivity of travel, but you'll find they will also make your legs and feet feel better when you're climbing all those steps or walking long distances at some historical site.

Plan Ahead And Be Prepared

The goal of virtually all summer vacation travel is to relax and enjoy yourself. Doing just a small bit of health planning before your trip can greatly increase the odds that you'll achieve that goal. That's especially important as we age, or if you are currently facing existing health issues. Circulatory and respiratory problems don't have to mean curtailing all your travel plans. Instead, planning now to do all you can to minimize how those problems affect your travel, and talking to your doctor about your upcoming travel plans, can help ensure that you enjoy your travel to the fullest.

Take the time before you pack that suitcase to do both travel and health planning and this most certainly will be a happier and healthier travel season for you.

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