Exactly How To Stay Healthy When You Travel

Tips For Healthy Travel Dr. Will Cole

Sometimes you have to travel for work and sometimes you get to travel for vacation. Either way, arriving at your destination with the sniffles or coming home with the flu is hardly an ideal result. Travel exposes you to germs you probably wouldn’t encounter in your normal routine and that can mean everything from an inconvenient cold to a serious infection. I travel frequently for speaking engagements, so staying healthy on the road is something I have had to master. Here are some of my favorite travel-friendly wellness practices. They’ll help keep you in optimal health so your immune system can squash those bugs before they squash your vacation or your homecoming.

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10 Tips for Healthy Travel

1. Supplement with magnesium

I always travel with magnesium. The pressure in an airplane cabin can contribute to gas and constipation, and magnesium counteracts those uncomfortable effects. Try mixing magnesium powder with water and drinking it right before boarding. Magnesium also has a calming effect and promotes (1) better sleep, so it can help with jet lag, too.

2. Plan for healthier eating

When you don’t plan your meals and snacks, or at least have some options in mind, you are more likely to resort to junk food. Fortunately, healthier food options are more and more widely available – even Starbucks has kale chips and dried fruit. Check restaurant options at your destination before your trip so you know where to go, and see if you can get a hotel room with a kitchen or at least a refrigerator, so you can make a quick health food or grocery run and have better options on hand for your entire trip.

3. Use a saline spray when flying

Airplanes have notoriously dry air, which can leave you feeling dehydrated and also compromises the mucous membrane barrier, which could make you more vulnerable to viruses. Stay hydrated, not just by drinking more water, but by using a saline spray in each nostril, once before the flight and once or twice during the flight for longer journeys.

4. Take advantage of the spa

Many hotels have saunas, steam rooms, and sometimes other spa services. I’m partial to the sauna, which I use every evening when traveling if I can to help de-stress, reduce inflammation, and sweat out toxins.

5. Pack your own airplane food

Did you know you can bring a cooler of food through security? As long as you aren’t packing any liquids (although do bring an empty, refillable water bottle), you can bring an entire healthy lunch or dinner from home and enjoy it on the plane. You’ll be the envy of all. Here are some of the things I’ve brought with me on a plane:

  • Homemade nori tuna wraps
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Cut up veggies
  • Raw almonds
  • Homemade granola
  • Tea bags to steep in my water bottle at room temperature, or to put in hot water on the plane
  • Collagen powder to mix in water

6. Keep moving

Even if all you want to do is lie on the beach, or you have to sit in business meetings all day, you can still work in movement along with getting to know a new place better. When I travel, I always try to experience the local history, culture, and sights of the place I am visiting, no matter how far or near from home. Look into walking tours, biking tours, self-guided tours, or hikes in natural areas. You’ll get your heart rate up, your muscles moving, and your circulation pumping, while you also take part in new experiences that help invigorate your brain.

7. Stay balanced with adaptogens

Traveling can be exhausting, immune-compromising, and stressful, but adaptogens like ashwagandha and holy basil, as well as adaptogenic mushrooms in powdered form like chaga and turkeytail, can help balance the downside of hitting the road by amping up immunity and energy, leveling out hormones, and boosting your brain power. You can add these to your reusable water bottle or sprinkle them on top of food at restaurants so you can keep on top of your game during your trip.

8. Feed your gut with probiotics

Probiotics give your immune system a further boost, since about 80 percent of your immune system is stored in your gut. (2) Package up those probiotics to keep your microbiome in tip-top shape.

9. Juice your way through security

Did you know that frozen liquids don’t count as liquids when you go through security? Stash some ziplocks full of frozen healthy green juice in your cooler. When you land, they will be ready to drink or store in your hotel fridge.

10. Meditate through the travel chaos

Delays, missed flights, and traffic jams can upset even the best-laid plans and can be a major source of stress. Part of traveling is learning to go with the flow, and there is no easier way to practice this than through mindfulness. Use long lines, waits, and other frustrations as opportunities to practice resilience and breath awareness. If you aren’t sure how to start, check out the many phone apps out there that make it easy to meditate on the go.

Functional Medicine Tips To Recover From Jet Lag

It's one thing to keep up your wellness game while traveling, but jet lag is another ballgame. The following list of functional medicine-approved jet lag remedies will help you enjoy the most of your destination, naturally.

1. Watch what you eat (and when)

The timing of your meals is always important, but it becomes particularly crucial if you’re switching time zones. Your meal patterns send signals to your body about what time of day it is.

For example, if you’re taking a morning flight from the east coast to the west coast of the United States, delaying breakfast until you land can help signal to your body that the day has just begun, even if you’ve been up for hours. If you’re flying west to east, eat a light dinner so you don’t have to digest a big meal and you can get to bed early to adapt to the new schedule.

And no matter where you are, don’t eat late at night. One study (3), published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, showed that eating before bed (especially a high-fat meal) led to lower sleep efficiency scores, taking a longer time to fall asleep, a higher likelihood of waking up throughout the night, and less time in REM sleep.

2. Be strategic about your caffeine intake

Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you can’t have your morning coffee (phew, right?). In fact, it’s quite the opposite. By drinking caffeine in the morning at your destination, you’re more likely to adapt to the new sleep pattern more quickly. That said, limit your caffeine to the morning. After 11am or so, stick to caffeine-free beverages. And remember, it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine. Foods like chocolate and beverages like tea, soda, and kombucha also contain hidden caffeine that can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep after traveling.

3. Get some exercise

If you’re traveling between time zones, don’t forget to move your body; preferably in the morning. This will signal to your body that your day has started and it will also support a healthier mood (4), better insulin sensitivity, and help you wear yourself out so you’re more likely to sleep soundly that night. In fact, studies have shown (5) a direct correlation between exercise and a better night’s sleep.

If you want to take it to the next level, try to exercise outside in direct sunlight, which will help get your circadian rhythm adapted to the new schedule. Studies have linked (6) morning sunlight exposure to a better night’s sleep and a better mood.

4. Pack a probiotic

Does your digestion get thrown off when you travel? If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. Many of us blame the foods we’re eating, but it might actually be the time change. Studies have shown that jet lag can change the makeup of our gut bacteria. One study (7), published in the journal Cell, showed that jet lag-induced dysbiosis can promote glucose intolerance (aka, insulin resistance) and weight gain.

The solution? A probiotic supplement, which can help you inoculate your gut with plenty of beneficial bacteria to get your digestive health back on track.

5. Try melatonin

If none of the strategies above are quite doing the trick—and you find yourself wide awake after midnight—supplementing with melatonin can help you get your sleep and energy levels back on track. Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin levels rise in the evening as the sun goes down and decrease in the early hours of the morning (when the sun comes up) to help us shed the sleepiness and take on the day.

As you might guess, traveling through multiple time zones can leave your body’s sleep-wake cycle and melatonin rhythms (8) out-of-whack; you can end up producing melatonin too early or too late, which affects your ability to wind down to get to sleep. The good news is that by taking a melatonin supplement, you essentially biohack your sleep-wake cycle and signal to your body that it’s time for sleep, regardless of the time back home.

Melatonin has been widely studied for jet lag and the science is promising. One review paper (9) showed that in nine out of the ten studies they evaluated showed that taking melatonin close to bedtime at the destination (between 10 p.m. and midnight) decreased jet lag from flights crossing time zones. If you’re having trouble adjusting, or want to take it preventatively, take 5 mg of melatonin about 30 minutes before you’re ready to go to sleep.

Travel can be hard on your body. You’re out of your regular routine, eating strange foods, and sleeping at strange hours. The time change can make you feel like you’re living in a fog. But by trying a few (or all!) of the tips above, you can mitigate the damage and make sure your jet lag isn’t ruining any of your fun.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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  1. Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012;17(12):1161‐1169.
  2. Furness JB, Kunze WA, Clerc N. Nutrient tasting and signaling mechanisms in the gut. II. The intestine as a sensory organ: neural, endocrine, and immune responses. Am J Physiol. 1999;277(5):G922‐G928. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.1999.277.5.G922
  3. Cibele Aparecida Crispim, Ph.D., Ioná Zalcman Zimberg, M.S., Bruno Gomes dos Reis, R.D., Rafael Marques Diniz, R.D., Sérgio Tufik, Ph.D., Marco Túlio de Mello, Ph.D. Relationship between Food Intake and Sleep Pattern in Healthy Individuals Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2011. doi:/10.5664/jcsm.1476
  4. Hearing CM, Chang WC, Szuhany KL, Deckersbach T, Nierenberg AA, Sylvia LG. Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review. Curr Behav Neurosci Rep. 2016;3(4):350‐359. doi:10.1007/s40473-016-0089-y
  5. Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review [published correction appears in Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510]. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. doi:10.1155/2017/1364387
  6. Mariana G. Figueiro, PhD, Bryan Steverson, MA, Judith Heerwagen, PhD, Kassandra Gonzales, MS, Barbara Plitnick, RN, Mark S. Rea, PhD The impact of daytime light exposures on sleep and mood in office workers Sleep Health Volume 3, Issue 3, P204-215, June 01, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2017.03.005
  7. Christoph A. Thaiss, David Zeevi, Maayan Levy, Zamir Halpern, Eran Segal, Eran Elinav Transkingdom Control of Microbiota Diurnal Oscillations Promotes Metabolic Homeostasis Cell Volume 159, Issue 3, P514-529, October 23, 2014. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.048
  8. Brown GM. Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 1994;19(5):345‐353.
  9. Herxheimer A, Petrie KJ. Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002;(2):CD001520. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001520

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Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

Gut Feelings Dr. Will Cole 6

Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel