Healthy flight

Whether you’re an experienced business flyer or just going long-haul for a once-in-a-decade holiday, health journalist and author Lucy Fry gives her healthy suggestions to keep you in top form while travelling

Cabin pressure, dry air, comfort eating (and drinking) and sitting still – these are all issues that can make us feel sluggish, stressed and bloated while flying, particularly long-haul.

According to Scott Cohen, deputy director of research of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey, the cumulative effect of the stress from preparing for a trip and the jet lag from those trips can lead to “travel disorientation,” which refers to feelings of fatigue, discomfort and lack of energy. Yet it’s easier to emerge from a flight feeling refreshed and healthy than you might think. Try our 7 ways to stay healthy on your flight.

1. Allow plenty of time

That friend who you always mock for being early may have it right. “Stress hormones released when you’re rushing actually create a reduced immune response, which means your whole system will be more vulnerable,” says health and wellness expert Jeannie Di Bon. Allow yourself an extra hour to get to the airport and you might just dodge catching a cold on board.

2. Eat smart for a healthy flight

“Travelling has been cited as one of the main reasons for not consuming sufficient fruit and vegetables,” says nutritionist and travel well-being consultant Kathy Lewis. “Frequent business travellers are more likely to get ill, due to poor dietary habits and lifestyle.” She recommends eating digestion-improving fruit such as pineapple or bananas – these are good for both diarrhoea and constipation, as they’re rich in a soluble fibre called pectin.

Health and weight-loss coach Jill Gardner suggests cutting out sugar and refined carbs a day before and during your flight. “This gives you more stamina and lasting energy and can prevent the jet lag from feeling much worse.”

3. Move lots, and not just your legs

Personal trainer Karen Lanson recommends trying compression socks during a flight of four or more hours. “They apply a gentle pressure to the ankle, aiding the blood flow and reducing the risk of DVT (a blood clot in the veins),” she says.

Wear loose clothing and remove tight jewellery before long flights. Try walking up and down the aeroplane aisle to encourage blood flow to the legs. For extra health points, Lanson suggests doing some toe taps and ankle circles in both directions, and to point and flex your feet at regular intervals while in your seat.

And don’t forget about your upper body. “Sleeping without a head support can cause headaches, migraines and muscle pain,” says wellness expert Di Bon. “Try regular gentle rolling and circular head motions to keep the joints loose and release tension up and down the spine.” Don’t stop moving once you’re off the plane either. En route to passport control, take the opportunity to stretch out those cramped muscles. “Rushing off the plane and lunging to pick up a heavy bag can lead to back pain or even disc hernia, because your body is still compressed from hours of sitting,” adds Di Bon.

4. Try positive visualisation to calm nerves

If you struggle with flying nerves, imagining it as a positive experience can be as powerful as experiencing it, found a study published by the US National Library of Medicine. “See yourself relaxing with a great book, enjoying looking out the window or being absorbed in a film as you take off,” says Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and author of The Anxiety Solution: A Quieter Mind, A Calmer You. Imagine yourself arriving at your destination feeling excited and positive. Focusing on all the things you’re looking forward to will help you build positive anticipation for your journey.”

5. Tuck away your tech to relax

Studies show that people who are heavy users of technology are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. For a healthy flight, make the most of going tech-free and try a relaxation exercise instead. “Imagine each muscle group relaxing in turn,” says Chloe. “Start with your feet and toes, then move up through each muscle to your legs, hips, stomach, back and chest, arms and hands, neck, scalp and facial muscles.”

6. Drink up, but don’t just stick to water

We know air travel is dehydrating, but chugging water might not actually be the answer to a healthy flight. “Have a variety of drinks throughout the day to support your needs while flying,” says nutritionist Kathy Lewis. “Research indicates strong coffee may act as a diuretic, while mild, milky tea and coffee has been found to be slightly more hydrating than water. Avoid consuming more than 150ml fruit juice on board due to the high sugar, low-fibre content and be wary of alcohol, which disrupts sleep.” Go easy on the fizzy drinks too – gas expands in the digestive system at low air pressure.

7. Care for your skin and eyes

Your skin gets very little oxygen in an enclosed space at 40,000 feet, and can quickly become clogged and dry with all that recycled air. Facial beauty expert Helena Chapman suggests drinking plenty of water, and regularly reapplying face oil to invigorate the skin. Contact lenses can also become dry at altitude, so it’s best to wear glasses and use hydrating eye drops every hour or so.

Inspired to stay healthy while on holiday? Read our healthy holiday hacks according to the wellness experts.


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