How Traveling Can Harm Our Health by Dr. Asa Andrew

Sarah from New York Writes:

I travel extensively for work on a weekly basis. I have heard it can be bad for my health. What can I do to protect my body through the constant weekly car and plane travel?

Dear Sarah,

It has been well known in research studies that traveling by plane or car extensively can take a toll on your health in the long term. As a matter of fact, 85% of the root causes of many health challenges we face today have a basis in emotional or environmental toxins. Our environment plays a role in regards to the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the exercise we get, the water we drink, and the stress that we manage.

Travel alone is stressful to the body. I can tell you that I have been traveling for years for my work. There were several years that I was “on the road” for up to 250 days per year. You might not be that level of a road warrior, yet even the occasional eight-hour drive, or four-hour plane flight can be challenging. Any type of travel can create certain stressors that can be detrimental to your vitality and rob you of your energy. One of the main issues with travel is the amount of radiation that we get while in a plane flight. For every 6 hours in the air it is equivalent to a chest x-ray.

Also, whether driving or flying we increase a major stress hormone in our body called cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes us to age faster, wrinkle and sag more, store more body fat, and reduce brain activity. Not good!

So what can you do? It comes down to creating some basic habits that will help you overcome the negative effects of being on the road.

Whether by plane or car, these principles are the same. Keep your routine to maintain your health while on the road.

1.Drink More
Ok so I’m not talking about alcohol. We are made of an estimated 75% water and our cells crave water. When flying, our bodies can become dehydrated much easier due to the altitude. It is easy to want the sodas, coffee, and the juices. If you do have some of those beverages, make sure to follow with plenty of water on the flight depending on how long it is. A good rule is an 8oz bottle of water for every hour you fly or drive. I usually carry bags of green tea in my briefcase. Just add one bag of green tea to your water. It is proven to help lower the stress hormone cortisol. If you are complaining about paying for water because its not free on many flights anymore, fly Delta, it’s still free and my personal favorite airline.

2.Get Up and Walk
Jesus did it, and made others do it too. He was definitely into exercise and for a good reason…kidding but not really. Movement creates a positive impact on our health. As I fly, I notice some people getting up to use the bathroom only to hurry back to their seats. We love to sit, eat, and be entertained. A recent study noted that for every 6 hours we sit, we might take up to 6 years off of our life! Wow! Flight attendants have it the best on the flights because they are always walking to serve others. That is great for their health. Make it a goal to stand for 5 minutes for every hour that you fly and for every 2 hours that you drive. This keeps great blood flow, reduces the chance for a blood clot, and reduces the wear and tear on your spine and posture. In addition our body has it’s own built-in detoxification system. When we move, we pump the lymphatic system and cause the body to help fight against most health challenges.

3.Eat Every 3 Hours
When traveling, it is easy to snack on the junk food and not keep up with your daily eating habits. Blood sugar levels can suffer when you are not in your daily routine. A granola bar instead of a salad, potato chips for lunch because you don’t want to stop driving or your will be late to your meeting. It’s about being prepared. I was asked the other day by a flight attendant why I seemingly had so much packed in my roller board for such a quick trip. It may have looked like all clothes, but I always carry my supplements, healthy nuts and snacks, to help stay on my routine. Because I travel so often, I refuse to let my daily eating habits and lifestyle suffer. Remember you control life each day, or it will control you. A big part of the stress of travel is not getting the right nutrition. Make sure to get a healthy snack or meal every 3-4 hours while traveling to keep your blood sugar stable and get the right nutrients to combat the travel stress.

4.Avoid Sugary Snacks
When it comes to cortisol and stress, nothing will accelerate the hormone more than eating the sugary snacks and sugary drinks. If you get the sweet tooth opt for a piece of fruit and some nuts to help balance the blood sugar and the cravings. While traveling make a goal to drink water or unsweet tea. Most teas, like green tea, have potent antioxidants and polyphenols that can help you improve your health, protect against the aging process and help ward off the toxins from travel.

5.Get Your Rest
When traveling make sure to get your rest. Although some say they will just sleep on the plane or in the car, that sleep is usually not the best. Travel takes a large stress toll on our health so getting proper rest on the day of travel is very important. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep both the night before a big trip and the day of arrival. This will help reduce stress on the body and help balance the overall cortisol levels.



Known as America’s Health Coach, Dr. Asa Andrew is a national best-selling author and host of the #1 Health Talk Radio Show in North America. In addition to his hit television series, Dr. Asa is a regular contributor to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and FOX and regarded as a healthcare leader in the field of lifestyle medicine.