Chances are, you'll be traveling during the holiday season to reconnect with family and friends or take a much-needed vacation. While holiday travel can be great for your psyche, it can take a hefty toll on your health. The journey itself can be filled with stress—traffic, flight delays and those new, more invasive airport security screenings—as well as causing a disruption in your sleep schedule and eating habits; all of these can lower your immune system's ability to fight off cold and flu germs, making you more prone to getting sick. Once you arrive at your destination, you'll likely face large festive meals combined with a lot of sitting and schmoozing, not great for your waistline. If you have a smart action plan, though, you might be able to clear some of these hurdles to stay healthy and fit during the holiday season. Here are 10 tips for dealing with holiday travel provided by leading fitness and travel experts.
1. Plan meals in advance. "Pack your carry-on with healthy goodies so you have something on hand when hunger strikes," says vegan travel blogger Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, creator of the Healthy Voyager website and radio show. She recommends bringing a small bag of nuts, a few low-sugar energy bars or your favorite sandwich to eat during the flight. If you don't have time to pack some snacks, use an app like the free GateGuru to find out where you can get a healthy meal at the airport. If you're driving to your destination, avoid eating a heavy meal right before you hit the road to keep from getting drowsy; instead, eat a small low-fat meal and tote along some snacks to stay energized throughout your drive.
2. Get a full night's rest. Make sleep a top priority on the night before your trip. Get the packing and other preparations done early in the day, so you're not driving drowsy on the road or slugging through the airport with a fatigue headache. Research has shown skipping even a few hours of sleep can make you more susceptible to catching a cold the next day. And it can cause you to be a less alert driver, which is why the AAA recommends getting at least six hours of shut-eye before a long road trip. If you can't, get a designated driver to help you out. And, if you're flying, make use of that in-flight pillow, blanket and eye mask on the airplane to help you recover those lost winks, says Scott-Hamilton.
3. Stay active. Exercise will boost your energy and mood while traveling, says Mark Verstegen, a trainer and founder of Core Performance, who serves as the director of performance for the NFL Players Association. Wear comfortable shoes so you can walk around the airport terminal instead of sitting down to wait for boarding. And make a few trips up and down the aisle during your flight, even if you don't need the restroom. In the car, take breaks every two or three hours for a quick burst of fresh air and brisk walk around the service station. "Even ten minutes will do," Verstegen says.
4. Skip the in-flight cocktail, coffee and caffeinated beverages. Alcoholic beverages can have a stronger effect when you're imbibing at high altitudes and may enhance jet-lag symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, headaches or mental grogginess. And they can be very dehydrating. So, too, can coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Your best bet is to drink plenty of water. If you know you've got a long wait at the airport and want to avoid spending $5 on bottled water, tote along an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain after you pass through security, recommends Scott-Hamilton.
5. Prepare for unexpected delays. These can be stressful since they're largely out of your control, but preparing for them can help you deal better, says Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Pack some movies and books that you've been dying to get through. Also, keep things in perspective. "Yes, it is a bummer to be stuck in the airport or in traffic, but it's not the end of the world," Lombardo says. Consider how lucky you are, she adds, that you are going to visit people you love or have the means to travel to a fun place.
6. Plan family activities around fitness. Skating, tobogganing or caroling are fun ideas, suggests Jill Houk, who co-owns Centered Chef Food Studios, a health-focused catering company. If the family would rather stay cozy by the fire, offer to walk the dog or jog to the store for the cranberry sauce. Plan your activity for early in the day because it's far tougher to get up and moving after dinner, points out Verstegen.
7. Bring your own breakfast. Save your calories for lunch or dinner, and skip those 1,000-calorie breakfasts of pancakes, bacon and French toast, Houk says. She suggests toting along some cereal bars, apples, dried fruit or instant unsweetened oatmeal, just in case dried cereal isn't a morning option where you're staying.
8. Plug in to stay on track. Fitness websites and mobile apps make it easy to work out at mom's house, even if you don't have equipment. MyFitnessPal, which is available free online and for download to iPhones and Androids, lets you track your daily exercise and nutrition and determine how many calories you're burning, say, sledding with your nieces or how many you're consuming in that Samuel Adams Holiday Porter. Comprehensive programs like Adidas miCoach allow you to tap into your personalized workouts and coaching instructions, or you can easily plan out a running path in your area via MapMyFitness.com.
9. Follow an 80/20 rule at dinner. Yes, you can have your holiday favorites, if you limit the portion sizes. Load up your plate with 80 percent fresh or steamed vegetables and fruits and 20 percent everything else, says Houk.
10. Avoid the holiday splurge-and-starve cycle. Verstegen finds that when people eat a large meal or overindulge, "there's a tendency to say 'I overate at dinner last night, so I'll just skip breakfast and lunch.'" Steer clear of that downward spiral, he says. Better to break the cycle right away by starting the next morning with a quick walk and light, nutritious breakfast, and fill up with a snack and a glass of water before you sit down to the next tempting meal.
Chelsea Bush writes for AskFitnessCoach, a blog that promotes fitness and weight loss for "real" people.