High Altitude Health
Zoe Strimpel tells you how to keep sharp when you’re flying
At this time of year, people are flying more than ever. If you are lucky, that’s because you are getting away on a well-earned holiday. If you are still taking business trips right now, well, you probably need to make sure you are arriving in the best shape you can be.
We’ve all heard about the dangers of deep vein thrombosis, but there are plenty of other ways that flying can damage your health. Feeling under-par is the last thing you need, whether you’ve been travelling for business or pleasure. Here’s what you need to know to keep healthy while in the air.
The main difference between being in a plane and on the ground is the pressurised environment. In a plane, your body has to work harder to circulate oxygen through the blood stream and its job is only made more difficult by the dry cabin air. British Airways’ health department recommends sitting with your feet on the ground, back supported against your chair and hands and arms open and relaxed. Take a deep breath in, lifting your shoulders. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly breathe out and drop the shoulders. Repeat several times.
Drink a normal amount of water but, if you like knocking back the G&Ts on board, remember to down water in more than equal measure.
Get up and circulate the cabin whenever possible. Add some deep stretches during each trip. It is thought that the restricted oxygen on airplanes can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that can occur when you sit still for too long.
It’s obvious: if you’re sitting still for hours on end, eating heavily isn’t going to feel good. Furthermore, the reduced air pressure in the cabin puts a strain on your digestive system because the gases in the body cavities are forced to expand by about a third. Lynda Bramham, head nurse at MASTA, the travel clinic, recommends that you “wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing, and avoid carbonated drinks.”
It’s best to leave the stale rolls and synthetic desserts and focus on vegetables and a little bit of meat. The healthiest approach is to bring a salad and fruit on board from a decent airport vendor.
There’s another reason to avoid unhealthy, particularly sugary foods on board. Your immune system will be up against a variety of bugs from unknown countries in an enclosed, airless tube. That said, cabin air is constantly recirculated through particulate filters which remove more than 99 per cent of particles, including bacteria and viruses. Still, it is a good idea to say no to the assortment of chocolates and ice cream most airlines offer between meals, since sugar encourages an environment in which bacteria and viruses can thrive. Your body needs all the help it can get.
Making sure you’ve got adequate supplies when you get on board – a couple of litres of water and healthy snacks – is all part of planning. So is arriving in good time to avoid the stress of racing through the terminal just as the gate is closing.
A stressful start to a journey, from getting a strained back from running with your luggage to sweat that chills you when it dries, may mean you spend the first few days recovering: think ahead and avoid wasting valuable time when you arrive.