Whether you travel for fun or for work, you're likely focused on packing your bags properly and getting to the airport on time, which means you might not be spending much time thinking about your health. However, there are a number of health mistakes you can make when flying, and they can leave you tired, jet lagged, or even sick. Taking care of yourself when traveling is just as important as taking care of yourself when at home or at your final destination, and a little bit of planning can keep your body in tip-top shape.
"Many of us don't realize just how disruptive flying can be to our normal routine," says Dr. Jennifer Caudle over email. "Flying often means that we are eating food that we don't eat normally, that we are somewhat constricted during the flight when we might otherwise be active, and that we are in close quarters with many others. This might be a bit foreign and cause us to feel a bit 'off' and not feel like ourselves after flying."
To make sure you arrive at your destination feeling as best as possible, you'll want to avoid these eight surprisingly bad health mistakes many people make while flying.
1Staying Seated The Whole Flight
Most people don’t get up unless they’re headed to the bathroom, but sitting still for a long flight can cause your muscles to stiffen as well as increase your risk of a blood clot. "On average, planes are pressurized at about 6,000 feet above sea level, which alters blood flow to your skin," says Bobby Buka MD over email. "One way to circulate blood flow is to take at least one lap around the cabin during your flight to assist with homeostasis — also called 'blood balance.'"
2Not Drinking Enough Water
Most people don't drink enough water on flights, which can seem harmless, but it actually affects your whole body. "Dehydration makes us more prone to contracting illness," says Dr. Jack Dybis, DO over email. "Drinking plenty of water also helps bolster your immune system and decreases the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can cause headaches, cramps, tiredness, and stomach problems."
3Sitting In An Aisle Seat
If you hate being in the middle (because who doesn't?), you might want to start sitting in a window seat instead of the aisle. "Aisle seats themselves get more exposure to germs from the amount of people walking up and down the aisle," says Dybis. "You also put yourself into closer contact with more people by sitting on the aisle."
4Turning Off The Air Vent
You'll want all the fresh air you can get, and the overhead air vents are your best bet. "The air that comes in from above is the freshly filtered outside air," says Dybis. "This is your best chance to avoid any airborne illnesses, especially when in proximity to someone who is visibly ill."
5Drinking A Glass Of Wine
Ordering a few glasses of wine can seem tempting, as it might help you fall asleep initially, but not only will it dehydrate you more, but it can increase your chances of getting sick. "An occasional drink is fine, but make sure not to go overboard, as drinking too much alcohol can compromise your immune system," says Dr. Taryn Forrelli over email.
6Touching The Tray Table And Not Washing Your Hands After
Most people use the tray table when they're served drinks or food, but if you're not washing your hands or using hand sanitizer before eating, you're about to be loaded with germs. "People don’t realize they’re touching surfaces with more bacteria and viruses than they think, especially the tray table, which is the dirtiest surface on a plane," says Buka.
7Bringing A Temperature-Sensitive Snack
"Another mistake that many travelers can make is grabbing temperature-sensitive food items (like fruit salad, sandwiches with cheese and deli meat, or dairy products), and letting them sit out too long before they actually eat them," says Kelly Puryear, M.A., RDN/LDN, CSCS, ATC over email. "This can increase your risk for food poisoning, as bacteria thrives in the temperature danger zone of 41 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit after only two hours. The best way to ensure food is not in the temperature danger zone for two hours or longer is to purchase non-perishable food while traveling or to eat your perishable food as soon as possible."
8Eating Packaged Foods
It's tempting to just eat whatever's around you on your journey, but these foods could make you end up feeling worse. "Eating packaged foods that you can find at the airport and on the plane may be convenient, but these high-sodium and highly-processed foods can cause you to retain water and feel very bloated," says Puryear. Try to bring your own packaged snacks like unsalted nuts or healthy bars instead of opting for plane food or salty pretzels.