When was the last time you travelled and how did you feel about it? Be it for work or vacation, travelling can be tedious and nerve-wracking or exciting and joyful to destinations ranging from urban cities to quaint villages or the remote jungles.
Your body has to bear a lot of stress, as you move from place to place and follow a packed itinerary. Your immune system, digestion and circadian rhythm can also be disrupted. Experiencing terrible traffic, weather, or traveller’s diarrhoea will definitely affect your mood for the whole trip.
Meanwhile, travelling on a plane, train, or bus increases your chance of getting ill as you get exposed to more people, some of whom could be harbouring infectious diseases such as the flu or cold.
Here’s how to strengthen your immunity, stay healthy and avoid falling sick:
♦ Be prepared: Learn about your destination – How is the weather? Is the food and water clean and safe? Is there any ongoing outbreak? There are recommended vaccinations for travellers to certain countries, so be sure to get them before your trip.
If you have any special needs (such as pregnant women, people with disabilities, people with weakened immune systems, recent illnesses or injuries), consult your doctor for any advice or precautions.
♦ Foodies, beware: For many, the highlight of their holiday is the variety of delectable local food to try. However, eat in moderation. Opt for less oily, sugary or salty foods and have more fruits and veggies.
For example, if you are planning to try the famous fried chicken for lunch, have local fruits for breakfast and grilled fish for dinner. Stuffing too much food will put stress on your gut; save some space for the rest of the trip.
♦ Vitamins and minerals: Vitamin C and B6 are good for your immune system and help fight illnesses. Get vitamin C from oranges, strawberries or broccoli and vitamin B6 from salmon, tuna, or green veggies.
Micronutrient deficiencies (lack of vitamins or minerals) can affect your immune system, so include more varieties in your food choice, not just while travelling, but all the time. Multivitamin and mineral supplements may be convenient, but ask for your doctor’s opinion first.
♦ Stay hydrated: Drink lots of plain water, especially when travelling to a destination with a hot climate. It can be a hassle to find a toilet, but it is better than getting dehydrated. Be sure your drinking water is clean and safe. If not, stick to bottled water.
♦ Have enough sleep: Your body surely needs rest after all the adventures. You may plan to stay up late on certain nights, so sleep early the night before and after. Sleep is the rest you need.
♦ Take your time: When planning your trip, slot ample time to rest and recover. Do not pack as much activities or locations as possible into your itinerary. This way, you will be able to enjoy yourself more and get to know the place better. Studies show that emotional stress may upset the gut and immune system.
Healthy gut, happy traveller
One organ that tends to act up during a trip is the gut. Most of us have been through the uncomfortable experience of going back and forth to the toilet after eating something “wrong” while on the road. The gut is a vital part of the immune system and that is one way it tries to get rid of the threat.
A healthy gut contains a balance of good and bad bacteria. One way to maintain that balance is by consuming foods rich in good bacteria or probiotics.
Furthermore, a research conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre showed that regular consumption of L. acidophilus and L. paracasei probiotics found in cultured milk drinks can potentially improve the immune system, in addition to allay constipation symptoms, which may happen to some people due to the change in dietary pattern during travel.
Other than that, remember to only eat food that is cooked and served hot. Raw fruits or veggies should only be eaten after being washed using clean running water or peeled. Note that ice could have been made with unclean water. Know your gut, if you know you cannot tolerate certain food, avoid it.
There are many other pointers to help keep you fit and healthy while travelling, but the key message is to practise a healthy lifestyle – a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep not just during travel, but also in daily life. Taking care of your hygiene is key in preventing infections and sickness.
Remember: memorable travel starts with a healthy traveller.
This article is courtesy of Digestive Health Malaysia (DHM) society and Vitagen Healthy Digestion Programme (VHDP) in conjunction with their World Digestive Health Day 2019 awareness campaign. Prof Dr Raja Affendi Raja Ali is DHM vice chairman and a consultant physician and gastroenterologist. He is not associated with and does not endorse any brand or product. For more information, contact 03-5632 3301.
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