Flying can be a veritable smorgasbord of unhealthy options and situations, from picking up bacteria on germ-infested tray tables to getting muscle cramps after sitting motionless for hours and eating processed foods served by airlines and offered up at every airport store. But it is possible to preserve health on your next flight. Here's how, in seven simple steps.
Be Proactive About Immune Support
Before you board your flight, start taking illness preventers like Echinacea—a flowering plant used in herbal substances—diet-supporting fatty acids, like Omega-3 and Omega 6, and immune-system boosting vitamins B and C, recommends Lindsey Toth, M.S., R.D. at Swanson Health. But if you only pop one pill pre-flight, make it vitamin C. "When traveling, we're exposed to more germs and are under more stress," explains Nicole Avena, PhD., assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine and visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University. "It's important to keep your immune system working its best."
Pack a Reusable Water Bottle
The air on a plane is considerably drier and less humid than your average home or office—making it very important to stay hydrated while you're in the air, says Toth. She advises packing a reusable water bottle that can be filled once you're through security and refilled throughout the flight. Drink enough water, and "you'll be less likely to feel the effects of dehydration, which can include dry, itchy skin, tiredness, irritability, and even muscle fatigue," Toth says, as well as prevent blood clots.
Bring Along a Few Other Essentials
Packing a few other items—in addition to your water bottle—can make your flight more comfortable and healthier, says Toth, who recommends you bring ginger supplements to help you digest the airline's food, and "lip moisturizer, lotion, eye drops, and saline nasal spray to support your skin and protect membranes inside your nose against the dry air."
Always Wear Socks
Don't head to the airport in sandals, please. (Or if you do, pack easily accessible socks in your personal item or carry-on.) "They can help keep your feet healthy by avoiding germs when you take your shoes off in airport security lines," Toth points out, "and they will keep your toes warm while you travel." Consider buying compression socks to help with your circulation on long flights. A pair of socks help maintain blood flow and reduce leg swelling.
Use Natural Methods to Catch Some Z's
On long flights, it can be tempting to use a glass of wine or an over-the-counter sleep aid to help you nod off. But Avena recommends using a more natural method—magnesium—to catch some Z's. "Magnesium can promote relaxation and reduce stress, as well as help with muscle cramping, which can be a problem for people who don't move around a lot on the plane," she says. Plus, magnesium won't have the dehydrating effects of an alcoholic drink.
Fact: "Airplane and airport snacks aren't known for being healthy—and they can also cost you an arm and a leg," says Avena, who recommends packing your own snacks for flights. Nuts will keep you satiated thanks to their healthy fat content, Avena says, while dried fruit can curb sweets cravings and seaweed chips are a great substitute for salty potato chips.
Planes, and especially their bathrooms, harbor a lot of germs. So, Toth recommends you "sanitize frequently after touching germ-infested places like airplane armrests—especially aisle armrests—and tray tables, anything in a public bathroom, door handles, or stair rails." Pack hand sanitizer and wipes to help you keep everything clean.