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Traveling this holiday season? Take Steps to Stay Healthy While You're On the Go

November 30, 2010

After several slow years, travel is expected to be up this holiday season. According to one nationwide poll, 28 percent of Americans plan to travel for the holidays, up from 23 percent in 2009. More Americans will be crowding into airports and planes, while others will take to the road as the year draws to a close.

The American Automobile Association also estimates there will be many more cars on the road this year, at a time when the weather can be especially challenging. Some people may opt to drive to avoid potential hang-ups at airports due to increased Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) screening regulations. Meantime, many highways will be clogged with more construction projects than usual due to TARP funding.

All of this can add up to a great deal of stress, which is never good for your health.

"Airports may be extremely frustrating this year, especially with the new TSA rules. Add this to the fact that many people hate flying anyway, and it means airports and planes are likely be especially stressful places this holiday season," observes David Orenberg, M.D., Washington Hospital’s Medical Director of Emergency Services.

"If you are traveling, try not to get frustrated, angry or anxious. Make sure you allow extra time for any possible delays or complications so you won’t feel so pressured," he advises.

To avoid hang-ups with your luggage or carry-ons, be sure to double-check packing regulations ahead of time. Make sure you know any weight requirements, as well as what is prohibited, what you can carry on the plane, and what you must check in. Consider mailing or shipping your gifts ahead so you won’t have to pack or carry them. For more travel advice, visit the TSA Web site at www.tsa.gov/travelers.

Another reminder: if you are elderly or on regular medication: Be sure to take along a full list of your medications, including dosages. It’s also important to bring your doctor’s name, address and phone number, as well as any important medical records or copies of tests, such as your latest electrocardiogram, if you have heart problems.

Before you travel, be sure to get a good night’s sleep. This will make a huge difference in keeping your stress level down and enabling you to make better decisions if you run into any problems.

"Crowded airports and planes can be especially risky places for picking up a cold or the flu. If someone next to you is sneezing or coughing, and they have a virus you haven’t had, you might get sick," says Dr. Orenberg. "On top of this, you’ll be spending time in the plane’s dryer, recycled air and may be arriving in a much colder climate. All these factors add up to increased stress on your health and risk of illness."

Right now, it’s still not too late to get a flu shot. This will help with prevention if you are exposed to many viruses, advises Dr. Orenberg. Also, try to build up your immune system by making sure you eat healthy, get your vitamins and have plenty of rest before your trip. While traveling, drink lots of fluids to keep hydrated so you are more likely to ward off respiratory problems. Avoid drinking lots of coffee, as caffeine contributes to dehydration.

Another tip: Since you can’t bring liquids through airport check-in, make it your first priority to buy a bottle of water once you arrive at the gate. Better yet, bring along your favorite water bottle and fill it once you’ve been through security check-in.

Make sure you and any children traveling with you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently. Regulations allow you to take small containers of liquid or gel onboard as long as don’t weight more than 3 ounces.

"Don’t travel if you are ill with an upper respiratory infection, cold, fever or sore throat, adds Dr. Orenberg. "This makes you unsafe to others."

While you are on the plane or in the airport waiting for a connection, do some neck stretches to stay flexible and more relaxed. If you are on a long flight, try to do some leg bending exercises and, if possible, stand up and move around the cabin to improve your circulation. This is especially important for older people who may be at risk for stroke.

Also, consider bringing along healthy snacks, such as cut-up fruits and vegetables, nuts or sandwiches. This will ensure you and your family eat nutritious food while you travel, and you’ll save money.

Other good ideas for staying healthy while traveling:

  • To avoid getting chilled, bring an extra sweater or jacket on the plane with you.
  • Don’t drink excessive alcohol while flying. Its affect is doubled while you’re in the air, and you may end up feeling worse when you arrive at your destination.
  • Take along a small package of essentials: aspirin, stomach soothers, gas relievers, lip balm—a good idea for all travelers.
  • Keep extra coats, boots and an umbrella easily accessible in your checked luggage, in case of wintry weather when you arrive.

Many of these tips are good advice for road travelers as well. Also, be sure you bring along blankets and emergency food supplies in your care, and that your cell phone is fully charged.

Finally, once you arrive safely at your destination, remember that one of the best ways to enjoy a healthy and happy holiday is to avoid overeating and overdrinking.

Get a Flu Shot Today!
Washington Hospital Healthcare System is offer flu vaccinations to the community on the following dates and locations.

Washington Urgent Care
2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 212
Date/Time: Seven Days a Week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Call: (510) 791-CARE (2273) or visit www.whhs.com/urgentcare for more information

Washington On Wheels Mobile Health Clinic (see locations below)
Call: (510) 608-3203 or visit www.whhs.com/wow for more information

Fremont Senior Center
40086 Paseo Padre Parkway, Fremont
Friday, December 3 – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Silliman Activity and Family Aquatic Center
6800 Mowry Avenue, Newark
Thursday, December 9 – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Family Resource Center
39155 Liberty Street, Fremont
Monday, December 13, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Ruggieri Senior Center
33997 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
Monday, December 20, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Most insurance accepted. Cash discount available for those without insurance. Washington on Wheels is available to do flu shots on site at your company. Call for more details.

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