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Published on July 28, 2016

Healthy Tips for Summer Trips

David Thoman

Maybe you're counting down the days until your summer vacation. Or just got word your next business meeting will be in Boise or Bangkok. You can boost your chances of having a healthy and happy trip if you do a little prep work before you leave home.

Travel can be great for your health. Vacations can help you relax and reduce stress. Having fun and getting some exercise, like hiking or swimming, can benefit your heart and mind. But research has shown that your ability to successfully engage in healthy behaviors may decline more than you think once you're away from your daily routine. Dr. Sylvia Kim, specializing in emergency medicine at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital comments, "During the summer, people travel to new places and participate in new activities. Many people start vacation fatigued due to travel preparation, lengthy drives and flights. This can result in poor judgment and serious health consequences."

Before you travel, think about your personal, day-to-day challenges and plan for how to manage them on your trip. Think in advance about how to make healthy food choices, get enough physical activity or deal with feelings of loneliness. If you're concerned about your alcohol consumption, plan for healthy alternatives to the hotel bar at the end of the day. If you have trouble sleeping, think about bringing an item from home to make you feel more comfortable.

Too little sleep leads to poor concentration and judgment. Problems may seem more serious. You may have trouble dealing with common travel situations and changing circumstances, like a delayed flight, traffic jam or choosing safe and healthy meals. Being well rested will help you plan and carry out healthy behaviors while on the road, where there are distractions, temptations and the excuse and opportunity to indulge.

Jet lag is another sleep concern for travelers crossing multiple time zones. Jet lag is often more severe for eastbound travelers, because their days are shortened and it's harder for the body to adapt to a shorter day than a longer one. "Face masks, ear plugs and over the counter medication such as diphenhydramine or melatonin can assist with getting some needed sleep," suggests Dr. Kim.

Plan to give yourself some time so your body adjusts to the new time zone, if you can. It's also a good idea to avoid scheduling meetings or activities that require critical decision-making on your first day of arrival.

If you'll be driving, lack of sleep puts you at greater risk for drowsy driving and car crashes. Lack of sleep can slow your reaction to a braking car ahead, a sharp curve or other road hazards.

Research shows that car, bike and pedestrian collisions can pose a serious danger to travelers-maybe even more than you realize. "In the emergency department, we see many injuries as a result of motor vehicle and bicycle crashes. It is critical to not drink alcohol, take sedatives, or use your smart phones during these activities. It is challenging enough navigating new cities but distracted and impaired driving can result in permanent disability and death," says Dr. Kim.

Learning about your destination and packing smart is one more way to help you stay healthy when you travel. Things like eating at a local restaurant, swimming in a lake, changes in altitude or exposure to new germs and insects can make you sick if you don't plan ahead.

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