Travel can suck. In fact, the very method of getting from point A to point B (a flight) can suck fluids out of your body; leave you feeling weak, bloated, and tired; and even put you at risk for scary health risks like blood clots. (Sounds fun, right?)
But air travel doesn’t have to be hell. In fact, with a little bit of prep work and a plan to stay on track you can fight back against every single travel nightmare ahead—yep, even those fast food joints.
So bookmark this page before your trip, sit back, and relax. You’ll get off the plane feeling well-rested, well-fueled, and ready to take on the holidays a little bit stronger.
1. Snack Well
It’s no secret that airports and airplanes aren’t known for their health foods. Peanuts, pretzels, and sodium-packed Bloody Mary Mixes don’t do your body any good (think: bloating and dehydration ahead). So skip ‘em and pack food yourself. Jonathan Ross, an ACE-certified personal trainer and author of Abs Revealed, suggests snacks that are anything but straight carbs, which you’re often surrounded by at airports. Try nuts (healthy sources of fats and protein), and low-sodium jerky (a lightweight source of protein).
If chain restaurants or terminal kiosks are your only options, look for veggies, either cooked or in salad form, says Ross.
2. Work Out
Think your fitness stops once you take a seat for take off? Think again. Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S., a New York-based exercise physiologist and trainer who works with elite athletes, says the plane is the perfect place to keep moving. Focus on these three moves:
Seated Chair Twist: “Your lower spine gets very tight from sitting,” says Weiss. What to do: Sit up tall, put both hands on one arm rest and twist toward that same side. This will help alleviate stress in the entire spine, he says. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Calf Pumps: When you’re sitting for more than an hour, your blood begins to pool and becomes stagnant, says Weiss. “This can lead to dangerous blood clots that could cause a heart attack or stroke.” To ensure proper blood flow, try both seated and standing heel raises every 45 minutes or so. “The calf muscles are the biggest venous return for the lower extremities, so by simply pumping them, you will take care of the blood flow to the entire leg.” Do 3 sets of 20 to 30 raises for best circulation.
Stretch Your Neck: “We have all passed out on a plane and woken up in an awkward sleeping position with our neck sore,” says Weiss. A simple way to combat this besides a neck pillow? Stretch. “An ear-to-shoulder stretch works best as well as the chin-to-shoulder stretch.” Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to 3 minutes to ensure your neck is nice and limber. Want more exercises to try at 30,000 feet? Check out our plane workout.
3. Drink Up
“The relative humidity on a commercial flight is less than 10 percent, rivaling that of the Sahara Desert,” says Weiss. (Really.) Thus: Hydration is of paramount importance. A dry atmosphere can seriously dehydrate your body, causing fatigue and reduced performance for athletes, says Weiss. Even worse: Dry air sucks moisture out of your mucous membranes, making you more susceptible to getting sick, he says.
Fight back with water. “Staying hydrated can prevent the nasal passages from being irritated and in turn help prevent against gaining a cold,” says Weiss. Weiss recommends 8 ounces of water before take off and 12 to 16 ounces every two hours you’re in the air.
4. Give Your Skin Some Lovin’
That dry air thing? It doesn’t stop with your body—your skin suffers too. Cue: Kiehl’s Hydration Essentials Set ($29; kiehls.com). Travel-sized facial cleanser, moisturizer, hand salve, lip balm, and facial cream will keep your skin from getting thirsty, and will make it through security in your carry-on without a hitch.
5. Avoid the Hot Zone
Fun fact: Studies show that your chances of post-flight disease increase when you’re seated in a “hot zone” on a plane, says Weiss. Where’s the ‘hot zone’? Two seats in front of, to the side of, or behind an ill passenger.
The bummer: “Most airlines don’t allow you to choose your seats while boarding, so ‘hot zones’ can sometimes be unavoidable, says Weiss. If do find yourself within a few seats from a guy hacking up a lung, use a saline spray like Flight Spray: Nasal Hydration Spray. It will help keep your nasal passages moist and possibly keep you from catching a cold, says Weiss. “It could also help your health post-flight and reduce the chance of a cold or upper respiratory tract infection in the days following your trip.”
6. Zone Out
Few things are more annoying sitting on a loud plane (crying baby; cockpit announcements) with nothing to tune out the hysteria. That’s where Powerbeats2 Wireless headphones ($200; apple.com) come in. They not only pair with Bluetooth (the source device can even be 30 feet away), but also have a 6-hour rechargeable battery, and are sweat and water-resistant—ideal for a real sweat session after you deplane.
7. Jump in the Hotel Pool When You Arrive
There’s a reason planes are pressurized: That pressure provides you oxygen and ensures you don’t fall prey to altitude sickness. But it can also lead to GI issues and pain in your ears and sinuses.
One fix for this: “It is actually highly effective to jump into a body of water within two hours after arrival,” says Weiss. “Submerging the body in a pool or even in the ocean, helps your body release the built up gas, adjust to the current pressure, and combat the discomfort that can often be experienced.”