Nearly 100 million people will travel this holiday season to visit friends and family. Getting out of town or having house guests can be a well-deserved break from your regular routine. But those breaks in routine also present risks for sharing illness.
Long before sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner, consider getting a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “flu season" can begin as early as October and last as late as May. An annual flu vaccine (either the shot or the nasal spray) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu and spread it to others. The more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the less capable the flu is of spreading through the community. Many drug stores, including Bartell Drugs, offer the flu shot. Don’t let a nasty illness interfere with your family time.
Being prepared for the rigors of travel means packing with your health in mind. Seriously consider building a health travel kit including antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and antibacterial ointment. Many travelers swear by vitamin C and specialized immune supplements while traveling. Check with the pharmacist and naturopathic physicians at Pharmica in Madison Park to see what would work best for you.
The easiest way for germs to spread — particularly those related to diarrheal and respiratory illness — is through our hands. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It's quick, it's simple and it can keep us all from getting sick. Wash with soap and water for a full 15 seconds and, when washing in a public bathroom, use the drying towel to exit to avoid touching the door handle.
Sleeping while traveling can be a challenge. The National Sleep Foundation recommends taking 10-15 minutes before climbing into bed to quietly unwind from the day. Performing gentle stretches and listening to soothing music can be helpful. There are smart phone apps available that play white noise, like the familiar sound of Seattle rain, that help some people sleep better.
What about fitness on the road? If you have an exercise habit, take it with you. Regular exercise is a boost to the immune system and will help balance out that extra slice of pumpkin pie. Packing your gym shoes, a few elastic exercise bands and a TRX Suspension Trainer will allow you to get a full body workout in a small space. Ask the personal trainers at Denali Fitness for a 15-minute workout that can be done on the road with little to no equipment. If you’re under the treatment of a physical or occupational therapist check with them to see if your regular exercise routine needs to be modified while on the road.
Lastly, think about your nutrition while traveling. Drop into Bert’s Red Apple for healthy, travel-friendly snacks like fruit, low fat string cheese and mixed nuts. Drink water — not soda or alcohol — on your travel days. Hydration is essential to fighting infection and it’s even more important during air travel. Downing eight ounces of water for every hour you're in the air will keep you well hydrated.
While there is no guaranteed way to avoid illness, following these steps will minimize your risk. Take the time to plan ahead so you can enjoy the upcoming holiday season.
Aaron Shaw is a registered and licensed occupational therapist, certified hand therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. He operates MoveMend, a clinic located at 2818 E. Madison St. in Seattle.