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House Call: Keys to healthy holiday travels

As you head over the river and through the woods, whether by plane, train or automobile, staying healthy during holiday travel can be a challenge. Encounters with sick people during air or road travel, loss of sleep and changes in your normal diet can leave you feeling less than festive during the holidays.

Unfortunately, this time of year is also cold and flu season and as we take trips to be with our loved ones, these illnesses are passed along even more than usual. Clean your hands frequently to prevent catching or spreading a cold, the flu or another illness. A small bottle of hand sanitizer or packets of sanitizing wipes can be handy to carry with you for times when soap and water are out of reach.

Allow some extra time when packing to put together some healthy snacks. Apples, carrots, protein bars and oranges all travel well in your carry-on if you are flying. Yogurt, string cheese and grapes do well in a small cooler for a road trip. Another option when driving is to stop at grocery stores that have a gas station and a deli. You can fuel up the car and get a sandwich with lots of healthy vegetables on it or maybe a leafy green salad for the next leg of your journey.

If you need to change planes several times when flying, consider paying the extra fee and checking your bag(s) to spare your back, shoulders and arms. A carry-on that did not seem at all heavy when you stowed it on your first flight can feel like it’s filled with bars of lead by the time you are getting on your third plane of the day.

During travel, it is important to get up and walk once every hour or so to help prevent swelling and reduce the risk of blood clots in your legs from being still for too long. While you are seated you can flex and point your feet at least every 20 minutes to keep the blood moving. It also helps to drink lots of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine (which are dehydrating). I bring an empty water bottle with me to the airport and fill it with water after going through security so I can sip on it during the flight.

Exercise during travel can help you feel better also, especially if you have had a time change. Keep moving, even if you do not exercise regularly the rest of the year. Try to set aside time each day for some physical activity. A walk with your kids, nieces and nephews or friends or some quiet time walking on your own is good for you physically and mentally. If you are staying at a hotel with a gym and a pool, I recommend taking advantage of it for 30 minutes each day.

I dress in layers during travel so I can stay warm or cool enough no matter where I am. You won’t have control of the thermostat in airports and planes and maybe not even in the back seat of the car. Layers that you can peel off or pile on can help you stay comfortable. It is especially a good idea to bring extra jackets and a blanket if you are driving in case you get stuck on the road in cold weather.

No matter where you go – whether you travel or stay home, I hope your holidays are wonderful.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.