Tips for healthy holiday travel
The holidays are here, and with the joyous merriment comes travel. Whether it’s Christmas in Cancun or going home for Hanukkah, many people will be hitting the roads and airports to share the occasion with their loved ones. Gabriel Neal, MD, family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, gives tips on making sure your holiday vacation is safe and full of cheer.
If you’re one of the many people who decide to pack mere hours before your departure, you may want to change your planning habits—especially when it comes to medications.
“It happens far too often that people who are on medication will wait until they’re out of their prescription to try to get a refill,” Neal said. “Most clinics or health providers will be closed during the holidays; it’s important to have enough to last at least until the new year.”
Also, the holidays can be hectic for someone if they have to take daily medications, and creating a new routine during the holidays can seem like an unwanted chore. However, working your medication times into your schedule is very necessary.
“A lot of people may skip medication because of a change in routine associated with the holidays or travel,” Neal said. “It’s a very easy habit to fall into to lose track of medication, so set reminders on your watch or phone in advance to remember to take your medications.”
Don’t sit too long while traveling
One of the most dangerous health risks during long travels is developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that typically develops in the leg and can travel to the lungs. One way to mitigate the risk of a DVT is to walk and stretch your legs every two to four hours during long travels.
“When you walk around, you increase blood circulation and the blood doesn’t have as much of an opportunity to build up and clot,” Neal said. “Whether you’re driving or taking a long flight, make sure you have an opportunity to move your legs and massage them a bit.”
A DVT can happen seemingly at random, even to people who are otherwise healthy. However, people who have poor blood circulation, are obese or elderly, or have a clotting disorder have an increased risk of developing DVT. If someone is over 50 years old and plans on traveling, Neal recommends taking an aspirin before the flight. Aspirin causes platelets to move around more freely and lowers the risk of them sticking together and clotting. Of course, it’s always best to consult with your health care provider before adding new medications to your routine.
Eat healthy foods, even while traveling
Another bad habit that many people will fall into during long travels is not watching what they eat. Although chocolate bars and potato chips may seem like an entrée for any long road trip, they really should be passed over for their healthier alternatives.
“It’s difficult to eat healthy when you’re traveling since healthy options may not always be available,” Neal said. “Pack your own protein-rich snacks—such as nuts, jerky, fruits or veggies—for the trip.”
Also, be sure to skip the sugary sodas for water. Although this may lead to more bathroom breaks, it is important to drink plenty of water during a long drive or flight in the winter. Believe it or not, dehydration is certainly possible.
Avoid the holiday weight gain
The holidays are a time for family gatherings and feasts, and all of the merry cheer can lead to some problems—especially in the baked goods area of your kitchen.
“During the holidays, many people will eat a lot of sweeter and richer foods, so it’s important to be careful with your diet,” Neal said. “One eating strategy is to consciously eat when you’re hungry. Eat some delicious treats, but watch your portions and don’t just eat for the sake of eating.”
Keeping the holiday weight off can be difficult with all the delicious, easily accessible food and the feeling of being on vacation leaving little motivation to exercise. Also, with colder weather, it’s more difficult to get a jog in or a walk outside. To combat weight gain, make a conscious effort to get at least 30 minutes of exercise—such as time on a treadmill or a yoga class—at least several times per week.
Curb your alcohol consumption
For many people, this will be the first holiday season spent without a loved one, and for others, it could be a long-awaited reuniting. No matter the reason, the holiday season typically sees a spike in alcohol consumption. This, combined with possible inclement weather, can make the roads less safe.
“It’s important to be extra cautious during the holidays,” Neal said. “Families are on the road, and it’s vital to plan ahead. Arrange a ride if you plan on indulging in alcoholic beverages.”
While the holiday travels can have a hassle, they should be a relaxing end to a year and an optimistic start to a new one. From all of your friends at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, have a happy and safe holiday.