Holiday travel can really ding your health — and we don’t just mean the family drama that potentially awaits at your destination. Decadent food, germ-filled flights, sleep-stealing parties and events, not to mention the onslaught of cold and flu season, can take their toll. To help you stay healthy this season, The Remedy asked the experts — doctors around the country — how they maintain a strong body, mind and immune system at the most wonderful time of the year.
“I recommend for all my patients what I call the 30-and-5 Program,” says Steven Reisman, MD, of New York Cardiac Diagnostic Center. “This is a minimum of brisk walking 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. In some studies, this has shown to decrease heart disease risk by as much as 30 percent. This has tremendous benefits for general health.”
The Remedy Rx: The handy thing about Reisman’s program is that you can do it anywhere — outside, at the airport waiting for a flight, or in the mall. No matter where you are this holiday (or how much pie you’ve eaten), stay moving. It’ll benefit both your heart and immune system.
“A Mediterranean diet has been shown to be a heart-healthy diet and is also good for general health because of its emphasis on omega-3 foods, which are anti-inflammatory,” says Reisman.
The Remedy Rx: Diet over the holidays? Luckily, the Mediterranean Diet contains oily fish like salmon, berries, colorful vegetables, dark chocolate and a moderate amount of red wine — all things that can lend themselves to a luscious holiday spread. For an added omega-3 boost, you can use chia seeds and your favorite non-dairy milk to create chia puddings with cocoa, peanut butter or pumpkin for breakfasts or desserts.
“Drink liquids to keep well hydrated, especially in warm weather,” says Reisman. “An old wives’ tale recommends chicken soup as a good preventive step to ward off winter colds, and there may be some validity to this.” Water helps the body’s organs detoxify, and some studies suggest that chicken soup may contain anti-inflammatory compounds that help protect your respiratory system from infections.
The Remedy Rx: The experts at Harvard Medical School advise drinking four to six cups of water every day. And if you have the chance to make or order chicken soup occasionally, it sure couldn’t hurt. Trendy bone broth is another soothing, healthy option.
“Washing hands frequently with soap and not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth may help decrease the risk of colds and the flu,” says Reisman. “Sanitizing surfaces with disinfectant can help decrease the risk also.”
The Remedy Rx: Wash your hands regularly, and thoroughly, with soap and water for 20 seconds. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your purse, bag or suitcase to clean your hands when you’re not near a sink, and travel-size sanitizing wipes to wipe down germy public surfaces like luggage carts, plane armrests and rental-car steering wheels before you touch them.
The experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that every adult get an annual flu shot. Studies show it can reduce your chances of coming down with the flu by 30 to 60 percent. That won’t just save you a few inconvenient days of feeling lousy: The flu can have serious, even fatal, complications like pneumonia.
The Remedy Rx: Call your doctor about that flu shot. If you can’t get in, many pharmacies administer the vaccine at no charge beyond the shot itself.
During sleep, the body produces disease-fighting antibodies and cells that attack germs and viruses. If you’re not getting enough Z’s — entirely possible at holiday time — your immune system can pay the price.
The Remedy Rx: The experts at the National Sleep Foundation say we all need seven to nine hours a night, no matter how riveting the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie marathons seem to be.
“Stay calm and relaxed,” advises Herman Williams, a Nashville-based MD and author of CLEAR: Living the Life You Didn’t Dream Of. “Stress has been linked to many illnesses, hypertension and diabetes, to name a few.”
The Remedy Rx: That may seem like a tall order, with end-of-year deadlines, stressful travel arrangements and family drama to negotiate. So start your day with some mental exercise, before you get sucked into the undertow. “Meditate for 20 min every day when you wake up,” advises Williams. There are dozens of meditation and mindfulness apps that can help you get started.
“Maintaining your exercise routine can be tricky when traveling, depending on where you are and how much free time you may have,” says Dr. Thanu Jey, DC, clinic director at Yorkville Sports Medicine Clinic in Toronto. “Resistance bands are easy to pack, weigh nothing and can provide both stretching and strengthening exercises while you are away for work or leisure, so you can always get your training in.”
The Remedy Rx: Several inexpensive sets of resistance bands are available on Amazon; you can use them to perform a variety of exercises and sneak in an entire workout before you know it.
Plane travel might be something to look forward to if it weren’t such a literal pain. Improve your cramped surroundings with support devices in your seat. “Place a small cushion or pillow on your plane seat and position it on the small of your back to maintain your lumbar (low back) curve while you stay seated,” says Jey. “The pillow will prompt your body to avoid poor posture and provide more protection for the low back structures.” A neck pillow may look a little goofy, but it could help you ward off that post-flight headache.
Long plane rides and car trips can result in aching legs and feet, particularly if you have circulation problems. “Wear compression stockings under your pants to increase venous circulation, reduce swelling, help prevent the development of varicose veins and reduce symptoms from vein disease,” says Angelo Marino, DO, a Yale Medicine radiologist and vein specialist. “This is especially true if you stand for long periods of time, like nurses or teachers, have a family history of varicose veins like m,e or plan to travel long distances over the holidays.”
The Remedy Rx: “I typically recommend 20-30 mmHg strength stockings for most of my patients,” says Marino. “You also want to make sure that the stockings are properly fitted, as stockings that are too loose don’t apply enough pressure, and stockings that are too tight can restrict healthy blood flow. The good news is they now come in a variety of colors and fashion-forward patterns, so no one will even know you’re wearing them.” Click here for an entire rainbow of compression stockings.
“When you are traveling, regular stretching can help prevent back pain,” says Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania. “It’s easy to forget about keeping flexible when you are busy or around the holidays, but long car rides to relatives’ houses or shopping can lead to injuries, which can ruin holiday fun.”
The Remedy Rx: “Dedicate 10 minutes in the morning, evening, and after a long drive to stretching your beck, legs and shoulders to help prevent spasm and pain,” says Conrad. “Perform regular daily stretching before long car rides and after a long day, which will help relieve stress and prevent injuries. Your body will thank you for it.”
Public enemy #1 during flu season isn’t the guy coughing on the bus without covering his mouth, or that omnipresent toddler with the runny nose. It’s your cell phone. “We tend to think that our cell phones only accrue our own germs, but many people place their cell phones on common surfaces such as chairs or restaurant tables,” says JD Zipkin, MD, of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York City. “This can pick up tons of germs from those surfaces.”
The Remedy Rx: Experts recommend sanitizing your cell phone weekly, or more frequently during cold and flu season, to cut the number of germs you transfer to your hands and face. Worried about your sensitive cell phone screen? You can also make your own disinfectant: Mix equal parts 50% isopropyl alcohol and water in small spray bottle. Spray it on a soft microfiber cloth and wipe the germs away. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.