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Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Healthy Travel Restrictions

By Martha Michael

Man on Crowded Train

Traveling is the best of times and the worst of times. When it’s vacation or a visit with someone dear to you, it’s not hard to put up with inconvenience and lack of comfort. What you may not realize, however, is that you may be bringing something back from your trip -- chronic health issues.

Flying Friendlier Skies

There’s an ever-widening chasm between the accommodations for first class passengers and those flying in coach. While one group is stretching out in their airline pods, hundreds of others have three inches from their knees to the seat ahead of them, with no support for their spines.

It shows you a real lack of equality between “both sides of the aisle” or, more appropriately, “both ends of the plane.”

You don’t have to recline in your $5,000 lie-down seat while the attendant tucks you in with a silk duvet to recognize you’re going to de-plane in a lot better physical shape than the guy in business class.

A Los Angeles Times article about the space challenges on airplanes calls it “high-density seating.” Johannes Lampela, who works for BMW and does design and consulting for airlines, acknowledges there’s a two-edged sword in the process of building an airplane. Designers have to reconcile the tradeoff between space and weight. Until they come up with better ideas, passengers in the cheap seats will peel their accordion bodies from their chairs while their first class counterparts de-plane looking ready for their closeups.

Discomfort on the Orient Express

There’s a romance to traveling by trains, especially those that carry such monikers as “Coast Starlight” or “Bear River Line.” And if you’re lucky, you get to ride one with amazing views, a bar car and formal service for meals.

If you’re going to be a modern train traveler, you don’t want your body to suffer from a lot of sitting and poor positioning. A short trip on a train is a lot like riding the bus: You sit facing forward in rows while somebody else drives. But one advantage over a bus is that you can get up and stretch your legs. Set aside time to do that -- walk the length of the train (as far as possible and as often as possible).

If you take the train to work, you have some other concerns to think about. An article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail cautions commuters that the stress of overcrowded trains may actually be killing them. In a phenomenon the article calls “Cattle Truck Syndrome,” riders develop chronic health problems that include heart conditions and high blood pressure, simply due to the crowded conditions of commuter trains.

The threat of a heart attack or a stroke definitely hampers some of the romance of train travel.

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Like other modes of transportation, one of the biggest enemies to our physical health while traveling by car is extensive sitting. On long journeys, be sure to make frequent stops to walk around.

Watch what you eat. You can be a junk food junkie using any method of transportation, but you have more freedom of choice in a car. Steer clear of fast food and stop at a grocery store instead. Pull out your smart phone and see if your gym chain is en route. It would be a nice break and you can see how the gym compares to yours.

Drink and drive -- water, that is. It’s actually safer. An article in U.S. News & World Report says that becoming dehydrated can create some of the same driving limitations as drinking alcohol. Researchers found that even mild dehydration caused delayed braking and lane drifting.

Are you driving a convertible? The article cites a study concluding that 53 percent of skin cancers in the United States occur on the left side of the body, which is where drivers tend to get the most sun. Wear sun block or a hat to shade your face and protect your skin.

Go the Distance

Travel poses the same problem that sitting at home or work often does. Your muscles become fatigued and your spinal column takes a beating. And it’s mostly an issue of posture.

A Huffington Post article offers some tips to offset posture mistakes, which can minimize discomfort while you travel. First of all, don’t slouch. Sit up straight and do your best not to tilt your head for long periods. Keep your front, or anterior chain, open and lengthened.

The article says that the vibration from various methods of transportation works against you. Studies show that oscillation at some frequencies relaxes your muscles, diminishing the quality of your posture due to the lack of muscle support.

If you’re home from a trip, get some treatment for your aches and pains. If you can’t sleep because of a backache, or your neck never got over the whiplash experience of riding at high speeds between stops, call a chiropractor. If you had an old injury from your football days that was triggered on a trip, or if you got a bump on the head from a bump in the road, get it treated. You don’t want to be grounded because of a health problem.

You can actually seek out chiropractic care before you travel, which can prepare you for some of these travel challenges. Go for a follow-up appointment after your trip to have your spine adjusted, just in case the bumpy rides left you leaning or the locomotion reduced your range of motion.

Pay attention to your posture, even when you’re simply driving the distance to work and back home. And for longer journeys, being aware of potential threats to your health will bring you closer to meeting the great expectations you have for your vacation.

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