As I write this article, I am a few days away from a trans-Atlantic flight. I will be spending 4 days in New York City and then 4 days in Maryland. Flying over long distances and being out of your daily routine in general can be very problematic. My personal training client, Moshe, maintains business in the United States, Europe and Israel. He needs to travel frequently. One observation I have made about him is that when he stays put for 3 weeks at a time, his attentiveness and ability to workout at a high level are superb. But when he returns from a business trip, particularly to a country more than a 5 hour flight away, it seems to take more than a week for him to regain complete focus and to get back to high-level and efficient workouts. Anyone who has traveled probably can empathize with how Moshe feels. I know I am very out of sorts after a trip. I always wonder if man was really supposed to be flying around in what amounts to a big metal can for hours and hours. What happens to us that creates jet lag and what can we do to stave off some or most of the affects?
Jet lag is a physiological condition which results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms (the rhythms that makes up our internal 24-hour clock) resulting from rapid long-distance east–west or west–east travel on high-speed aircraft. For example, someone travelling from Tel Aviv to New York feels as if the time were 7 hours later than local time. The symptoms of jet lag may include fatigue and insomnia, anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, confusion, dehydration, headache, irritability, nausea, difficulty concentrating, sweating, coordination problems, dizziness, and even memory loss. Some individuals report additional symptoms, such as heartbeat irregularities and increased susceptibility to illness. Children and babies can also suffer the same jet lag symptoms as adults.
There are concrete measures that we can take to make our travel easier:
First and foremost, remember that traveling on an airplane puts you in an environment that is extremely dry. The day of your trip, drink a good amount of water and continue drinking during and after the flight.
Change your bed time
Avelino Verceles, MD, is assistant professor at the University of Maryland School Of Medicine advises people that are traveling in an easterly direction to begin going to sleep a little earlier 3 days before your trip. If you are traveling toward the west, then the opposite is needed-going to bed a little later.
Before you leave for the airport, do some moderate walking followed by stretching. You may be sitting on the plane for hours. Flying does increase the risk of blood clots, particularly DVTs or deep venal thrombosis. Even on the plane, it is good to get up every few hours and move around the plane.
Adjusting to a new time zone
When it is possible, select a flight that allows early evening arrival and stay up until 10 p.m. local time. In the even you must arrive in the morning hours, take a short nap in the early afternoon, but no longer than two hours. Set an alarm to be sure not to over sleep. If you can, try to arrive a full day or two before you have to do any particular job or have important meeting. It gives your body a chance to become accustomed to your new time zone will help you perform better in any particular tasks you might need to accomplish.
Upon boarding the plane, change your watch to the destination time zone and try to shut out noise on the plane. Blindfolds and earplugs are commonly used for that purpose. When you arrive at your destination, don’t eat a large meal and for the first few days; getting sunlight is imperative. Daylight is a powerful stimulant for regulating the biological clock while staying indoors worsens jet lag.
Nutrition and Exercise
I have also found that eating on airplanes, particularly the meals they serve, isn’t a good idea. Their meals are full of unhealthy fats and other food additives that aren’t good for you. Also keep in mind that you are going to be sitting most of the time for a period of many hours and henceforth not using your calories. Bring a few healthy snacks for yourself but keep eating to a minimum.
When you arrive at your destination, keep in mind all of the rules for being able to enjoy your time away while keeping your health intact. Either way you have to be extremely vigilant, because you are in a different environment than what you are used to. You may be sleep deprived; you might also be stressed. And usually someone else doing the cooking. It is easy to see why you have to plan and have realistic goals vis-a-vis your health and weight loss while away. Maintaining your weight is usually a realistic goal as opposed to trying to lose while traveling.
Follow all the regular eating out guidelines, in particular watching portion sizes and avoiding fried, battered and pasty foods, creamy sauces or heavy dressings. Start each day with a nutritious breakfast, don’t skip meals, stay hydrated and try to keep active.
If you are on holiday, indulge but in moderation and only occasionally. If you are eating out share your meal or have them pack up some of it to eat the following day. Remember restaurants always serve very large, oversized portion. Keep the desserts limited and you can always substitute fresh fruits or sorbets instead of cakes and mousses. It may be difficult but try to fit exercise into your schedule. This is where most people can fall short, but you don’t have to. Even if you have a very tight schedule, think about walking from place to place and using staircases instead of elevators. In 5-6 minutes you can do some pushups and abdominal work. If you are staying in a hotel are there gym facilities? You can you take an exercise band with you also. If there is one piece of advice that I give my clients that seems to work best for them it is to plan 24 hours ahead of time when you are not in very good control of your environment. Before you go to sleep at night, look at your schedule for the next day and plan both eating and exercise. Trying to make grand plans won’t work!
Although traveling far away has its difficulties, by following our advice, you can do damage control and enjoy your time away from home. Keep your health in mind and your goals reasonable during trips. It will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”