Flying has become a necessity of modern day life. But how often do you consider the impact of flying on your health? Do you feel exhausted and jet-lagged after flying?
Follow these 7 tips, from an Airline Pilot, for staying healthy whilst flying.
1. Cabin Air is Dehydrating: Drink Water
Aircraft cabin air has a very low humidity, as low as 10% compared to a normal humidity of 40-60%. The fresh air at 36,000ft in the atmosphere is dry and this is pumped into the cabin by the air system (attached to the engines). A further consequence of this air system is that the air is further dried out.
This means that cabin air is very dehydrating and will also cause your skin to dry out. Therefore it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking fluids.
The symptoms often described after flying, e.g. dry eyes, taut skin, dry mouth etc. are due to the dry atmosphere on board the aircraft. These symptoms may be exacerbated by drinking excessive amounts of tea, coffee and alcohol which cause the body to pass more urine. Simple measures such as applying moisturiser and drinking water should alleviate the symptoms.
Civil Aviation Authority
My Top Tips for staying hydrated on a plane:
- Take an empty water bottle through security
- Fill this up from a drinking fountain in the Departure Lounge. Bottled water in airports is expensive!
- Keep your bottle of water in the seat back pocket in-front of you (if it fits).
- AVOID alcohol and caffeinated drinks because they are diuretics.
- Diuretics interfere with the body’s water regulating hormones, dehydrating you more.
- Use moisturizer on your skin.
2. Stretch Your Legs
I always try and sit in an aisle seat (if the exit row seats aren’t available – but that’s for another story!). I do this because I’m fairly tall so I find these seats allow me to stretch out one of my legs. But I mainly choose aisle over being crammed in by the window because I try to keep moving every hour.
I don’t think your fellow passengers like being asked to move out the way every hour to let you out of your row! And maybe that is another excuse for being lazy and not getting up?
Sit in an aisle seat, get up every hour and walk around. If the aisle is blocked then just stand up next to your seat and stretch out your legs. Obviously don’t get in the way of the cabin crew during a meal service or when the seat belt sign is on!
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Everyone’s heard of DVT. We all make excuses for not getting up and stretching our legs; Engrossed in an in-flight movie? Eating dinner? Blocked in by other passengers in your row?
Recent research has been published on DVT, which confirms that immobility is an extremely important factor and that being seated for more than four hours in a car, bus, train or an aircraft may increase the risk of blood clotting.
World Health Organisation (WRIGHT Project)
My Top Tips for stretching your legs on a plane:
- Book a premium seat which has extra leg room.
- Choose an aisle seat which is easy to get in and out of.
- Check your airline’s in-flight magazine for in-flight stretching advice.
- Get moving every hour (Seat belt sign or cabin service dependent).
- Do walk up and down the aisle. If the aisle is blocked just standing will help.
- Don’t walk into unauthorized areas like other cabins or the flight deck.
- Don’t get in the way of the crew or other passengers
3. Eat Light Meals
Eating out of boredom? It can be very tempting to eat lots on a flight when you don’t have anything else to do. The Cabin Crew will present you with a meal, perhaps at a time not appropriate to your body clock.
Studies have shown that the cabin environment affects your sense of taste, so the food will taste bland; Therefore avoid pouring more salt on your food to improve the taste.
My Top Tips for eating on a plane:
- Avoid a heavy, rich meal.
- Try and eat on your body clock. (I will often choose a salad on a night flight)
- Take healthy snacks with you on-board; Cut fruit, dried fruit, nuts, cereal bars etc.
4. Jet Lag: Listen to your Body Clock
Your Circadian Rhythm is your internal biological body clock. On a normal day this process controls when you feel sleepy at night, body temperature (which decreases at night) and periods of alertness.
When you leave your home and fly across time zones your body will still remain adjusted to your time at home, not at destination. For every day you spend in a new time zone you can expect your body clock to adjust +/- 2 hours. That means you will take 4 days to fully adjust to an 8 hour time difference, the same as flying West Coast USA to Europe.
The bad news is you can’t beat biology (yet), so there is no way to increase this rate of adjustment. But what you can do is adapt as best to the new time zone. This means listening to your body clock and knowing when to try to sleep and when to eat.
Your body is naturally sleepiest at 3am and 3pm. So just schedule your sleep for during these two periods, even if all you can do is have a quick nap. Avoid eating meals between 10pm and 6am on your home time, until fully adjusted. Your body is designed for eating meals during the daytime, not during the middle of the night!
Aircraft and airports are very unhygienic. Firstly there are hundreds of other travellers, each bringing their own germs and viruses from the far corners of the planet. Secondly these travellers are now spreading their germs everywhere: Escalator handrails, baggage trolleys, lift buttons and those fingerprint scanners at immigration!
On the aircraft you’ve got seat back tray tables, seat belt buckles, overhead locker handles, toilet door latches etc. Sure, the aircraft get cleaned after every flight but it’s not going to have a medical level of deep cleaning!
The first thing is to AVOID touching everything that everyone else touches. If you’ve sailed on a cruise ship you will have practised opening a toilet door with a paper towel and then disposing of it in the bin. Secondly if you do have to touch something, avoid touching your face, rubbing your eyes etc!
Finally the best advice is to clean your hands thoroughly and frequently. Take a small 100ml bottle of hygenic hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial hand wipes and be sure to clean your hands before handling food.
6. Travel in Comfortable Clothes
What to wear on a long flight? I always take a set of loose fitting clothes or pyjamas to change into during the flight. Loose fitting is the key here.
Its always a good idea to pick clothes which are comfortable but use fabrics which allow your skin to breathe.
Cabin temperatures can vary alot throughout the duration of flight and also vary seat by seat. Window seats and seats next to doorways tend to be the coldest because there’s less insulation and lack of warm air ventilation.
7. Be careful handling heavy baggage
Its not often we have to carry heavy baggage around. Now that airlines charge for checked baggage there is a reliance on fitting everything into a carry-on, consequently making it very heavy. We are not used to lifting such heavy items into over head lockers, especially if you are not a regular flyer.
Always bend your knees and not back when lifting your bags to or from the overhead lockers. This applies to lifting luggage off the baggage carousel also. Look after yourself!
Do you have any questions about flying and travel I can help answer?
MEDICAL ADVICE DISCLAIMER.