Dr. Bonnie Verhunce
Health Tips for Frequent Flyers
Flying presents many health challenges to frequent fliers. The overall stress, the lack of a consistent healthy diet, the extended periods of sitting, the effects of cabin air and the discombobulation of jet lag, all take their toll on the frequent flier.
To deal with the ever-present stress of flying, avoid the chemical (medication, alcohol, etc.) and aim for more spiritual/physical, such as meditation or deep relaxation. Although some airports offer lounges for frequent fliers, sometimes the best option is a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a meditation tape.
Medical reports have shown that long periods of sitting are significantly detrimental to health
and there have been cases where long-haul flights have caused fatal instances of deep-vein thrombosis due to prolonged sitting. Frequent fliers are well advised to stretch regularly, either by getting up and walking the isles or by performing in-seat stretches. These can include neck stretching (tilting ear to shoulder and slowly rolling the head forward and down towards the other ear), back stretching (holding the armrests while twisting the chest to the left and right) and shoulder/arm stretching (placing the palm of the right hand at the nape of the neck, holding the right elbow with the left hand with the left elbow facing upwards and pulling the right elbow gently to the left, and then repeat the procedure on the other side).
A balanced regular diet is essential for health, regardless of occupation, but can be a challenge in airports due to the demands of boarding times and the temptations of fast food. Avoid processed and packaged foods, opting instead for fresh fruit that can easily be brought onboard. Whenever possible, eat at airport establishments that offer freshly cooked meals with fresh ingredients.
Hydration is very important when flying since cabin air is often exceptionally dry. Drink lots of water even though this might increase your number of trips to the toilet. Think of your trips to the toilet as a plus as it gets you out of seat and gives you another chance to stretch. Avoid in-flight alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as these will exacerbate your dehydration. Do not use the tap water from aircraft restrooms, as these are not meant to be potable.
Jet lag requires preparation and post-flight management in order to minimize its effects. For those fliers who will be returning to their point of departure in a short time, maintaining the same sleeping schedule (as much as possible) is highly recommended. For those staying in the destination’s time zone for longer than a day or so, adapting to the new time zone early by using a light box can significantly improve recovery from jet lag. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine, which alter sleeping patterns, can help to reduce jet lag. Switch to the new time zone immediately on arrival and avoid thinking about the time back home.
As a frequent flier, be sure to treat yourself to any airport facilities that help reduce stress and care for the body in healthy ways (massages, quiet rooms, etc.) and avoid those that provide only short-term pain relief.