ScientIST: Staying Healthy While Traveling

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Photo by ZigZagLens via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

With gas prices dropping, it seems likely that people will ramp up their holiday travel plans in an effort to reconnect with far-away family and friends (or a tropical island and a Mai Tai). While we are disappointed to see more cars on the road as we move farther and farther away from $4/gallon, December will surely be about planes, trains, and automobiles, hotels and relative's homes, airports and truck stops.

With the help of the Center for Disease Control's Yellow Book for travelers (we heart their website), we've compiled a few Travel Tips to keep you healthy over the coming weeks. For those of you too busy to make it through the entire handbook (Chapter 4 is a doozy) or Skymall is more your thing, we'll highlight a few must-know sections.

Venous Thromboembolism (VTE)
VTE is the formation of a blood clot (thrombus), usually within the leg, that can break free (embolism) from its source to cause problems elsewhere in the body (brain, lungs, kidneys, etc.). Because normal rapid blood flow serves to prevent the formation of clots, they can arise from prolonged sitting and immobility, which occurs routinely on long plane, train, or car rides (affectionately termed Traveler's Thrombosis).

A recent study pooled the scientific literature to assess the link between air travel and VTE, and found that there is "a risk of symptomatic VTE from prolonged air travel", though the magnitude of this risk varied from study to study. In general, risk was low when the flight was under 6 hours, but increased with longer durations (>8 hours). People with "weak", "moderate", "high", and "strong" risk factors were shown to have increased risk of developing VTE in accordance with their risk category and the length of flight.

Methods of prevention cited included exercise and hydration. This translates into avoiding alcohol and caffeine while in flight, drinking plenty of water, and getting up to move around the cabin every hour or so. If you're not an aisle seat kinda person, then you can do in-seat exercises like curling and releasing your toes, ankle rolls, or raising your legs up and down. Compression socks and anticoagulants are additional preventative measures for those with increased risk, but as always, you need to consult with your physician if you feel you require these additional measures.

Vaccinations and Prophylactic Medicine
If your destination takes you out of the US, it's important to make sure that your vaccinations are all in order. (The CDC site has recommendations by country). Consult your physician well beforehand to inquire about medicines you can take should you get sick while you are away (and not in driving distance to a Rite-Aid or a phone) and to refill anything you take on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. Many travel stores (we love Flight 001 on Third St.) have great pill boxes and mini-notebooks for storing your medical information for handy access.

Jet Lag
The circadian rhythm is like a delicate flower that gets crushed when you cross multiple time zones. To avoid acting like a zombie for half of your trip, employ the ever-faithful avoid caffeine and stay hydrated and soak up as much direct sunlight through outdoor activity as you can (wear sunscreen!) upon arrival. Besides, getting out and exploring your city is another way to keep the waistline in check amidst all the holiday goodies. In general, maintaining your sleep cycle is key, so practice good sleep hygiene: Avoid afternoon naps, take a hot shower/bath before bedtime, and have a small carbohydrate-rich snack a few hours before hitting the sack.