‘Tis the season to head home for the holidays, but what’s great for your soul can really wreak havoc on your body during peak cold and flu time. The sheer stress of the journey – from flight delays and crowded planes to a disruption in your usual sleep schedule and eating habits – lowers your body’s defenses, making you more susceptible to getting sick.
Take a few precautionary measures, however, and you’ll be well on your way to a happier holiday all around. Here are the top five tips for steering clear of sickness this season, whether you’re traveling to a winter wonderland via plane, train or automobile:
1. Wash your hands. It’s the No. 1 rule from experts; with a greater concentration of people and germs indoors, disinfecting hands and other frequently-touched surfaces (think shopping cart handles, airplane tray tables, etc.) is extremely important. When soap and water aren’t available, go for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, such as this Thymes Essential Instant Hand Cleanser ($6), which is enriched with aloe to soothe skin as it cleans.
2. Get enough sleep. The frenetic pace of the holidays often results in sleep deprivation, which not only affects your immune system, but can also make you more susceptible to overeating, lethargy and mood swings. Aim for six to nine hours a night, and feel free to supplement it with a little shuteye on the plane or in the passenger’s seat of the car. Try the J-pillow ($31.95), an update to the 40-year-old U-shaped travel accessory, which recently impressed a 25-judge panel enough to be named Best Consumer Invention for 2012 in Great Britain.
3. Eat well (and often). Just like the advice of not going grocery shopping on an empty stomach, the trick here is to make smarter meal choices well before hunger hits. Pack high-protein, low-sugar nibbles in your carry-on for quick access and to stay energized throughout your trip. Check out FitSugar’s list of healthy road trip snacks, which will help tide you over to the next meal without falling prey to the fast food rut while on the road.
4. Stay hydrated. To add insult to injury with air travel, there’s a serious lack of humidity in the cabin, which leads to dry noses, throats and mouths. To combat dehydration and help keep mucus membranes moist (so they can do their job), bring on the drinks! But skip the sugar, caffeine and alcohol; instead, set a goal of sipping eight ounces of water for every hour in the air. If the tap variety is too plain for your palate, try Aqua Zinger ($25.95), a fun new water bottle with a bottom-mounted grinder to subtly infuse water with flavors, such as fruit, citrus and other aromatics.
5. Try to sneak in some exercise. Think there’s no time for exercise between shopping for presents, running errands and attending parties? Think again; it’s easy (and dare I say – fun?) to incorporate a few heart-pumping activities into the holiday hubbub. Park farther away at the mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, shovel snow by hand, count your pre-party housecleaning as cardio and don’t forget to walk the dog, which will help you both burn off excess energy. When all else fails, try making some form of physical activity a tradition, such as heading over to the Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square ($10, plus $5 skate rental, for a 90 minute session) for some fun and fresh air for the whole family.