Safety & Wellness

20 Essential Tips for Healthy Air Travel After 50

January 1, 2024

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Have a trip coming up? I’m so excited for you. Travel is such a wonderful experience―life-changing even.

But as we embrace the joys of travel, it's a good idea also to remember the importance of looking after our health, especially if we’re in the second half of life.

This post will provide you with 20 essential tips on healthy air travel.

You may be perfectly healthy now and want to stay that way. (Our immune systems may not be as strong as when we were younger☹️.) Or, you may have some medical issues that might be compounded by air travel, especially if it’s a long flight.

Either way, you want to ensure your air travel is as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. Therefore, paying attention to your health and well-being throughout the trip is crucial.

I used to travel a lot on business and for fun, and over the years, I’ve learned several things about how to stay healthy on the plane. Thankfully, I rarely get sick anymore.

I’ll share those tips with you, along with some expert advice from medical professionals. I want you to arrive at your destination healthy and feeling great!

While I know you don’t want to catch a cold, I definitely know you don’t want to experience deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can create life-threatening blood clots.

Unfortunately, DVT is more common as we age, and research has shown that our risk of DVT increases 2- to 3-fold after flights of more than 4 hours.

In the list below, you’ll find 20 essential tips for healthy air travel, divided into pre-flight preparations, in-flight strategies, and post-flight recovery, to help you stay healthy and vibrant while flying so you won’t miss a minute of your upcoming trip.

20 Tips for Healthy Air Travel

Pre-flight Preparation: Setting the Foundation for a Great Trip

Don’t wait until you’re at the airport to think about staying healthy. It all starts when you book your flight. The tips below will guide you through the steps to take to set the foundation.

1. Plan your seating

When booking your flight, book an aisle seat, especially if you're taking a long-haul flight. You’re less likely to get a virus if choose a window seat and stay seated the whole flight. But, you’re more likely to get DVT if you don’t move.

An aisle seat makes it easier to get up and move around during the flight, and you have the added benefit of quick access to the restroom.

2. Consult your healthcare provider

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Photo by National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

If you have any underlying medical conditions, have recently had surgery, have been in the hospital, or take prescription medications, consult your healthcare provider before flying. They can offer guidance and verify that your travel plans align with your health needs.

3. Pack wisely

Before leaving, be sure you have everything you need for the flight. This includes your medical devices, an adequate supply of any prescription medicine, and comfort items like a neck pillow, eye mask, and earplugs, so be sure to pack these in your carry-on bag. They are especially important to ensure you get rest during long-haul flights, as lack of sleep negatively affects your immune system.

4. Get a good night’s rest

In addition to benefiting your immune system, getting a good night’s rest before your flight is one of the best things you can do to ensure healthy air travel. It helps your body cope with the demands of travel so you’ll feel better once you get to your destination.

If you’re crossing multiple time zones, adjust your sleep schedule a few days beforehand, getting up an hour or two earlier or staying up later to match the time at your destination.

5. Hydrate well

The Cleveland Clinic reports that as we age, we’re more susceptible to dehydration, which is a common cause of hospitalization for those 65 and over. For air travel, it’s ideal to start hydrating several days before your flight by drinking plenty of fluids.

Dehydration can cause slow circulation, digestive issues, and fatigue, hurting your immune system. And you want that immune system to be strong to fight off any bugs you’ll encounter while traveling.

6. Exercise beforehand

Do some light exercise before your flight by stretching or taking a short walk. This will help prevent stiff muscles, keep you more comfortable during the flight, and promote better circulation. Remember to keep that blood flowing! We don’t want any sluggish blood clotting.

7. Eat mindfully

Bowl of healthy protein, vegetables and fiber.

Photo by Anh Nguyen via Unsplash

Now’s not the time for brownies for breakfast and chips for dinner. On the days before you travel, eat your 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, some lean proteins, and lots of whole grains. It’s easy to get constipated when traveling, and you want to keep your digestive system humming along nicely.

(Pack a few Smooth Move tea bags if travel constipation tends to be a problem for you. Of course, wait until you get to your destination to brew a cuppa!)

If you think about it, your digestive system is timed to your daily activities and meals. And if you change time zones, your digestive system will be out of whack.

So the best thing is to eat lightly the day before and the day of your flight. Give your system a chance to rest before you start filling it up again.

8. Dress comfortably

Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing, and bring layers so you can adjust to changing cabin temperatures. A big, cozy scarf can serve as a shawl or blanket.

9. Wear compression stockings

Compression socks have an elastic fabric that fits tightly around your ankles and calves. The pressure pushes fluid up your legs and toward your heart. Compression stockings have been proven to reduce your chances of deep vein thrombosis.

Put these stockings on first thing in the morning on the day you’ll be traveling. You can get some plain black ones or cute ones with patterns.

In-flight Health: Strategies for Staying Healthy in the Air

Now that you’ve set up the foundation for a healthy trip, it’s time to focus on what you can do on the plane. Not only do you want to avoid catching the typical viruses we think of when flying, but now’s the time to pay particular attention to what you can do to avoid deep vein thrombosis.

10. Keep moving

DVT is caused by sitting for a long time in cramped seating, low atmospheric pressure, and dehydration combined with any personal risk you might have.

Look in the back of the inflight magazine. Most will have some exercises you can do in your seat. If not, rock your feet from your heels to your toes, clench and relax your legs, move your feet up and down as if marching, and rock forward and back and side to side to give your hips a bit of movement. Do these exercises every few hours.

Take advantage of that aisle seat (see Tip #1. Get up, and move around the airplane cabin every few hours. It’s OK to walk up and down the aisle a few times to give your legs a good stretch when the seat belt sign is off. And if you're changing planes during your trip, be sure to walk around the airport terminal. Keep things moving!

Just keep that blood flowing!

11. Stay hydrated

According to the National Institutes for Health, there is low humidity in aircraft cabins. In fact, the humidity level is often less than 20%. By comparison, the average humidity in the Sahara Desert is 25%! This dry cabin air can contribute to dry eyes and nasal passages. And dry eyes and nasal passages let the bad bugs in.

So use eye drops and hydrate your nose with saline solution. You can also apply a layer of Vaseline or a petroleum jelly alternative inside your nose to trap any bugs that enter. Use your freshly washed hands or a Q-tip. I haven’t caught a cold on the plane since I started doing this years ago.

And sip water throughout the flight.Reusable water bottles Not all airlines offer water anymore, so either purchase a bottle before you board or, better yet, bring an empty reusable water through security and fill it up before you board.

If you need more water, just let the flight attendants know. Don’t drink the water out of the tap in the airplane bathroom unless you run it through a water bottle with a filter to remove contaminants.

Now I know some people don’t like using the bathroom on the plane. I see you! But intentionally restricting fluid so you don’t need to use the restroom is not good for your health. Instead, you can avoid caffeine and alcohol, which both have a diuretic effect. I know…I’m no fun.

12. Wash your hands

More viruses are transmitted by our hands than in the air on an airplane. So for healthy air travel, wash those hands with soap and water, especially before eating. You know the drill…at least for 20 seconds or one round of “Happy Birthday.” If soap isn’t available, or the seat belt sign is on and you can’t get to the bathroom, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

And avoid touching your face. Your eyes, nose, and mouth are where the bugs get in. I know. I sound like your Mom, but you know it’s true!

13. Disinfect your zone

Disinfecting wipes are your trusty sidekicks and the best way to get rid of those pesky bugs around your seat. Pack them in your carry-on and use them to wipe down the armrests, tray table, seatbelt buckle, and entertainment screen controls as soon as you get to your seat.

Bring your own travel pillow and blanket (or large scarf) so you don’t have to use those the airlines provide, as they may not be thoroughly cleaned between flights. First and business class usually offer them in sealed bags, so you’re probably OK there.

And mind those hands! Beware of common areas like lavatory door and faucet handles. Use a towel to turn off the faucet and a tissue or your elbow to open the door.

14. Bring a face mask

Modern aircraft circulate air in a way that significantly reduces the risk of getting a cold or the flu. (Reminder to get your flu shot!) However, your chances of getting sick are much higher if you’re sitting within 2 rows of someone sick, if the flight is more than 8 hours, or if the plane is very crowded.

Your choice, but me? I always take a new mask with me on the plane. I put it on for long flights or if I hear anyone coughing and spluttering around me. I may not cinch it as tight as I did during COVID but I do just like that extra bit of protection. And I turn on my air vent to keep the air circulating around me.

15. Protect your skin

This dry cabin air is also really drying for your skin. So apply lotion before you board and moisturizer and lip balm frequently during the flight to keep your skin comfortable.

16. Snack smart

Bring healthy snacks like fresh fruit, vegetables, and trail mix, which will help support your immune system. Avoid sugary and processed foods that can weaken your defenses. A handful of almonds or an apple? Yum!

If you’re going to another country, be sure not to take too much food on the plane as you may have to dispose of it before you enter the country.

17. Relax

Stress compromises your immune system, and flying can be stressful, especially if you’re not a frequent flyer. Practice deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness techniques to stay calm and reduce anxiety during the flight. Noise-canceling headphones block out much of the sound so you can relax or listen to calming music.

18. Sleep

You want to arrive well-rested. If you have difficulty sleeping on the plane, bring a high-quality neck pillow to support your head and neck. Use earplugs and an eye mask to reduce noise and block out light.

Even if you can’t sleep, putting on your eye mask and relaxing, especially when it’s nighttime at your destination, will help you arrive refreshed.

Post-flight recovery: Ensuring a smooth landing

19. Rest and recuperate

After you land, give yourself time to rest, reset your body clock, and adjust to your new environment. Even if you don’t experience the effects of jet lag, your body will still need time to recover from the journey. I always wait at least one day before booking an activity or joining a tour and two days if I’m changing many time zones and need to recover from jet lag.

And eat lightly for the first day or two and continue to drink plenty of water. Remember, your digestive system needs to adjust to your new time zone.

20. Stretch and walk

Deep vein thrombosis can occur for up to two weeks after travel, so keep moving by gently stretching and walking to keep your blood circulating.

If you experience swelling, tenderness, soreness, or pain in your leg, if you have shortness of breath, or if you’re coughing up blood, seek immediate medical treatment from a local health care provider as you may have a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Explain that you’ve recently had a long flight.

CONCLUSION

So, my friend, comfortable and healthy air travel is within reach!

Grab an aisle seat so you can keep moving, and consult your healthcare provider for tailored advice.

Remember essentials like medical devices, medications, and in-flight comforts. Ensure a good night’s rest, get some light exercise, and be well-hydrated before flying.

During the flight, stay active, hydrate, wash your hands (and keep them off your face), disinfect your space, and consider wearing a mask.

Post-landing, rest up and keep moving. Watch for symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and seek medical attention immediately if you have any of them.

Remember, your health is a precious asset, and with some thoughtful planning and self-care along the way, you’ll be able to embrace every moment of your holiday.

Have a friend who’s flying soon? Send these travel tips​ to them. And please sign up for Coffee and Compass, the weekly Smart Travel Guide newsletter, where you'll learn more tips for safe and enjoyable travel.

Have a great trip! 👋✈️🏖️

P.S. I'm sure you have some great tips as well. Please share them below so we can all learn from your experience.

❓Interested in more tips on how to have a great travel experience? Check out these posts:

10 Travel Planning Tips to Create the Perfect Vacation

35 Expert Travel Packing Tips

Avoid Pickpockets Like a Pro: Tips for a Safe Trip

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