What Happens to Your Body When You Travel?

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It doesn’t matter what cabin of travel you’re in — almost nobody gets off a long-haul flight feeling wonderful. Yet, there are a few steps you can take to minimise the effects of jet lag. To the average traveller, a couple of days of feeling tired or experiencing slight brain fog doesn’t bother them, but for the frequent flyer and business traveller, they want to arrive at their destination feeling the best they can.

We’ve taken a look at what happens to your body on a long-haul flight. Plus, we’ll give you the information you need to know if there’s anything you can change to support your body.

Immune System Can Weaken

Trapped in a flying metal — or composite — tube for hours, breathing cabin air and surrounded by passengers coughing and spluttering around you can place a burden on your immune system. There is research linking air travel to a catching a common cold, but interestingly, it’s got nothing to do with the recirculation of air. In fact, it’s to do with the very dry cabin air, small cabin space per person, lack of natural air and possible low replacement rates of new aircraft.

What can you do?

Put simply, to minimise risk of catching a cold, you can support good hygiene practices. This means washing your hands frequently, not touching your mouth and using hand sanitiser frequently. You can also think about upgrading your seat for extra leg room or to a premium cabin, as you are less likely to catch anything if you are in a more spacious seat.

Nutritionally, you can think about the vitamins and minerals that support your immune system and take them before, during and after your flight. These include Vitamin D, B6, B12, C and Zinc.

You should also consider stress-reduction techniques, as there is a link between stress and a weakened immune system.

delta a220 business travel laptop tray table
(Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Your Taste Buds Weaken

Your taste buds change at altitude, which can mean the food you eat on board has less taste. Further, air travel can affect your ears and sinuses from the cabin air pressure and dryness of the air. Catering companies know this is the case, so often, the food served at altitude will contain higher levels of sugar, fat and salt. Some sky chefs are now trying to use more umami flavours in their dishes on board.

What can you do?

Make sure you know what to choose when dining in flight, as some options are far better than others.

Oxygen is Depleted

Aircraft cabins are pressurised, which can mean lower levels of oxygen in your blood. This can lead to you feel lethargic, dizzy, fatigued, brain fog and also headaches.

What can you do?

Limit alcohol intake when flying, as this can limit your body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Hydrate and drink 3 litres of water during your flight to support oxygenation of the blood.

Risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Sitting for a long period of time increases the chance of DVT due to slow blood circulation. Dry cabin air and long periods of inactivity add to the risk for DVT, which is when a blood clot forms in the body, usually in a leg, and is dangerous because it can lead to pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is where DVT breaks off and moves into the lungs, depriving the body of the oxygen and blood supply that it needs and causing permanent tissue damage.

What can you do?

Airlines encourage movement when flying, and you should listen. It’s vitally important to move around the cabin when you’re on a long-haul flight — especially in economy. Aim to get up and walk around the cabin at least every two hours, and drink lots of water.

Man relaxing and sleeping during flight
(Photo by Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images)

Become Bloated More Easily

As the pressure changes and you reach higher altitudes, you are more likely to experience bloating, cramping and gas. Coupled with the over-indulgence pre-flight and on the flight, it can cause all sorts of discomfort.

What can you do?

Try taking a probiotic when travelling, as this may help relive some of the unwanted side effects of travelling.

Become Dehydrated

The dry air, low humidity, pressure and altitude can mean you are more likely to suffer dehydration when flying, which can bring symptoms of fatigue, headaches and dizziness.

What can you do?

As mentioned above, drink 3 litres of water on your journey and limit alcohol as much as you can. If you are someone that reacts heavily to this, then take an electrolyte sachet on board with you and consume mid-flight.

Bottom Line

Flying at 35,000 feet can me a whole range of things for your body. But in order to make sure you arrive well rested, healthy and feeling good, there are some steps you can take before, during and after a flight.

Featured photo by Swell Media/Getty Images.

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