Ways to Stay Healthy on Your Next Flight

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Any long trip is tiring. But air travel can also cause health problems colds and other respiratory infections, aches and pains, jet lag and even a potentially fatal condition known as pulmonary embolism. Fortunately, there are easy ways to prevent each of these problems.


It’s easy to catch cold while traveling by air. That’s because the air inside most jets is re-circulated. And so are the airborne germs.

Sitting far away from someone with a cough doesn’t help. Since you’re in a confined space, you’re almost equally likely to be exposed to germs whether the source of the germs is 20 rows away or right next to you.

Making matters worse, the humidity inside a modern jetliner is usually 10% or lower. That’s less humid than desert air. By drying the mucous membranes lining your nose, mouth and respiratory tract, low humidity makes it easy for viruses and bacteria to get a foothold.

To fend off “airliner germs,” some people have resorted to wearing surgical masks during flights. I don’t recommend that. But I do recommend boosting your immune system. The day before, the day of and the day after your departure, swallow one-half dropperful of echinacea tincture along with 2,000 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C (divided into two 1,000 mg doses).

Drink 16 ounces of water or juice just before boarding the plane and 12 ounces each hour while you’re in the air. You might want to bring your own water bottle, in case the flight attendants are too busy to serve you.

Backache and neck pain

Support your lumbar spine by placing a rolled blanket behind your back. If you plan to doze, a U-shaped neck pillow makes a big difference. I prefer inflatable pillows, since they take up less space in your carry-on bag. They cost about $10 and are available at luggage stores.

Two exercises are also helpful

• Shoulder circles

Shrug your shoulders up and down, then roll them forward and back.

• Head circles

Tilt your head to the side, ear toward shoulder. Hold briefly, and then raise your head back to center. Tilt to the other side, and then return to center. Drop your chin to your chest, hold briefly, and then return your head to its normal position. Tilt your head back, hold, and then return to center.

Jet lag

The best way to fight jet lag is to reset your biological clock with melatonin after your arrival. Two hours before your new bedtime, take 1 to 3 mg. Take it the next two days, too, if you have trouble adjusting to your new schedule. Exposure to natural daylight after your arrival will also help you adjust.

Pulmonary embolism

Hours of sitting almost motionless slows your circulation, raising your risk for pulmonary embolism. In this potentially deadly condition, a blood clot forms in the leg, then breaks away and travels to the lung where it can interfere with the body’s oxygen supply.

To keep blood from pooling in your lower extremities, take periodic walks during the flight. As you walk about the cabin, occasionally stand on your toes, then rock back on your heels.

If the seat belt sign is on, do the following exercises in your seat

• Heel rocks

Sit with your back straight and feet flat on the floor. Lift your heels, and then rock back on them. Then alternately flex and point your toes.

• Leg lifts

Press down on your left thigh with your left hand, and lift your thigh against this resistance. Repeat 20 times. Switch sides and repeat.

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