Holiday Special: Planning Travel Helps Avoid Health Problems
Traveling long distances during the holidays — whether by car, plane or train — is a common custom for many Americans, but taking health precautions for the journey isn’t often at the top of to-do lists. Taking some simple steps to stay healthy while traveling can make the holidays more enjoyable and safe, according to a Mayo Clinic expert.
“One health risk to consider when traveling is simply sitting for too long,” says Clayton Cowl, an expert in transportation medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Concerns like blood clots in the legs from sitting too long, becoming dehydrated from lack of fluid intake or drinking too much alcohol, and not walking much when delayed in an airport or train station can be serious. Driving for hours to reach a destination after a long day at work can be as equally worrisome due to fatigue and eyestrain.”
Here are some recommended tips:
To avoid blood clots: While the risk is low, blood clots can be a concern when a person sits for too long because leg muscles aren’t contracting and blood tends to be more stagnant in the vessels. Automobile travelers should plan ahead to stop every few hours to hydrate and walk a bit, even during a short stop at a rest area or gas station. If possible, plan ahead to stop for a longer break, such as a walk at a mall or a park when stopping for food. Allowing children to run or play in a safe environment while traveling will often help curb their excessive energy in a confined space and may help them relax while traveling for longer periods. When traveling by plane, make certain to stretch your legs, and for trips longer than three hours, get up at least once to stand up or walk to the bathroom. For car or plane travelers, avoid crossing your legs while sitting for long periods, because this can inhibit adequate blood circulation, Cowl says.
To avoid sleepiness while driving: Plan ahead to get a good night’s sleep the day before the trip. If possible, take turns driving with other passengers; agree on a plan ahead of time. Take breaks at rest stops with healthier meal options, or pack a healthy meal to eat on the road. Combining a stop with a short walk to get fresh air and stretch for just a few minutes can make a big difference in staying more alert and refreshed. “We all want to just get to our destination for the holidays, but budgeting a little extra time to account for unexpected weather delays and adequate driving breaks is a really smart plan,” Cowl says.
To avoid stiffness from sitting too long: “Many people have experienced that stiff feeling after you drive for a while and then get out of the car,” Cowl says. Passengers can avoid some stiffness by doing some simple stretches, such as extending legs out and back several times and massaging thighs and calves. Drivers can do some of the same stretches, but they also should stop and walk around, he says.
To avoid eyestrain: Eye fatigue is associated with uncomfortable and annoying symptoms, such as sore or irritated eyes, dry or watery eyes, double vision or blurriness, increased sensitivity to light or unremitting shoulder and neck fatigue. Often, a short nap can significantly relieve these symptoms. You should never drive if you are sleep deprived, which can result in symptoms of persistent eye irritation or short bouts of nodding off. Use of non-medicating eye drops also may be considered if eye irritation persists.
To avoid dehydration: Air in airplanes is dry, cool and often recirculating, so drinking water is important to avoid symptoms such as headaches. Alcohol can be dehydrating on a cellular level, so being careful to minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption while traveling is important, Cowl says.
Plan for the worst, and enjoy the best: When severe winter weather hits, many vehicles often may become stranded at once and help may be hours or sometimes days away — particularly in more remote areas without cellphone coverage or in geographic regions where ice or snow are normally less common. Packing a simple emergency kit in the car can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Cowl recommends packing items such as a flashlight or other lighted warning devices, a candle to warm snow for drinking water, a metal coffee can and extra blankets or clothing to stay warm.