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Published on December 14, 2015

Your ticket for a healthy flight

Your ticket for a healthy flight

Even though air travel can be stressful, there are things you can do to make flying a more pleasant experience. It begins with being healthy, which is especially important if you have chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory ailments, like asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and Cystic Fibrosis.

“Before flying, make sure your chronic condition is stable,” said Gary Tratt, MD, an internal medicine physician at Cape Cod Hospital, who specializes in travel medicine.

This is important for a couple of reasons. There is less oxygen at higher elevations, making it more difficult for people with respiratory problems to breathe. Depending on the status of your health, “each person carries their own personal risk for infection and DVTs (deep vein thrombosis or blood clots),” said Dr. Tratt.

Those who are healthy and flying have less risk of getting sick or developing a DVT than a passenger who has a disease that compromises his or her health. If you’re flying under four hours, the risks are much lower than longer flights.

To help prevent DVTs, Dr. Tratt recommends choosing an aisle seat with room to stretch your legs. If you have an inside seat, do small exercises such as rotating your ankles, and flexing and extending your feet. Support stockings or men’s tuxedo socks that go up to the knees can be worn to promote circulation as well as going for a walk to the bathroom or galley every hour, he said.

You don’t need to be overly concerned about catching the flu or other airborne illnesses while flying, because air filters on planes remove 99.9% of the bacteria, fungi and larger viruses. Unless you are sitting next to a passenger who is coughing, sneezing or ill, your chances of getting sick are small, he said. However, you are at risk of catching an illness while mingling with crowds at the airport, he added.

Other air travel tips include:

  • Wear comfortable clothing. Dress in layers in case it’s too warm or cool. Slip-on shoes make it easier to remove them when you want to stretch your toes.
  • Stick with water. Even though alcohol can calm your nerves and coffee will keep you awake, water helps keep you hydrated.

When it comes to luggage, heavy suitcases can cause neck, back and shoulder strains according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They recommend purchasing sturdy, lightweight suitcases with handles and wheels. If you must climb stairs, carry your luggage, don’t drag it.

When wrestling your gear out of the trunk of your car, make sure to bend at the knees and not with your waist. Use your leg muscles and hold the luggage close to your body.

Another challenge when flying through different time zones is jet lag. The National Sleep Foundation reports this is caused by a change in our “circadian rhythms” influenced by our exposure to sunlight that helps determine when we sleep and awaken.

To help prevent or alleviate jet lag, the Foundation and Dr. Tratt recommend:

  • Choose a flight with an early evening arrival
  • Get up earlier for a few days prior to taking a trip east or go to bed later if you’ll be flying west.
  • Take a short nap upon arrival at your destination
  • Eat light meals