Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tips for having a healthy flight

Jet lag

These days, the experience of flying around the world can be more of an ordeal than a pleasure; with  concerns about terrorism, long queues for safety and security checks, and other things such as checking the long lists of things you can and cannot take with you.

There is also the stress of departure, there are the physical health issues, ranging from aching limbs, swollen ankles, and sleep disruption, to what has been popularly described as "economy class syndrome" (the possibility of deep vein thrombosis, DVT), and of course, coping with jet lag.

Despite these issues, we can't help but fly.  Dr Roy L. DeHart, an expert in aerospace medicine, in 2003 wrote: "although there are numerous health issues associated with air travel they pale in comparison to the enormous benefits to the traveler, to commerce, to international affairs, and to the public's health."

So given there are some things we can't change about air travel, what are the things we can do something about to protect our health and ensure our comfort while flying?

This article offers you some tips garnered from different sources, including official advice from medical and travel experts, as well as from frequent travellers' personal experiences, on how to minimize the effects of jet lag.

Jet lag is the result of travelling across several times zones, causing symptoms like fatigue and sleep disruption. Our biological clock is attuned to the day-to-night cycle of the start of our journey, so when we travel to a different time zone quickly, as it is when flying, our body is still functioning as if we were in the time zone we have left behind. It can take anything between 2 days and 2 weeks for it to adjust completely to the new time zone, depending on how far you have travelled.

Here are some tips to minimize the effects of jet lag:

Set your watch to the time zone of your destination before you depart.

If you are flying WEST (eg Paris to Vancouver, Bangkok to London): stay awake as long as you can when you get there. It is easier to endure a longer day that it is to shorten your body's natural rhythm. Also, if you can, try going to bed and getting up later for a few days before you travel, so that your body would start getting used to the idea.

If you are flying EAST (eg Mexico City to Frankfurt, Johannesburg to Sydney): try to sleep on the plane while it is night time at your destination. When you arrive, try not to sleep during the day, or it will take longer for your body clock to change to the new time zone. You can also prepare for the adjustment by getting up and going to bed earlier for a few days before you travel.

When you arrive at your destination, do your best to get into the local routine as soon as possible.
At your destination, try to stay outside during daylight as much as you can (don't forget to where your sunscreen), because natural light helps your body clock to adjust.

If you have travelled west, go outdoors in the morning and stay indoors in the afternoon for the first few days: if you have travelled east, avoid morning light and try to get more outdoor light in the afternoon.

If you are going on a short trip, for instance if you are a member of aircrew or a business person going to a meeting, then it doesn't make sense to try and adapt to the local time zone, you are probably best advised to keep to your home time zone.

If your business meeting is very important, getting there a half or full day early will give you more time to adapt and be fully alert. Alternatively, try to schedule it to coincide with daytime in your home time zone.

Some research has found that taking Melatonin at bedtime in the new time zone is effective for about 50% of people, but clinical studies have not yet been done to prove it is safe and effective and at what dose.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) the UK's specialist aviation regulator, aircrew are not allowed to use it. Melatonin is a hormone that is stimulated by darkness and suppressed when it is light.

Some people use sleeping tablets, but healthcare provider BUPA warns you should first talk to your doctor before using them on flights and for jet lag. He or she may advise you take them just for a couple of days while your body clock adjusts.

But you shouldn't take them in flight because this will encourage you to sit still for too long which increases the risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) Also, you should not drink alcohol when taking sleeping tablets, as this can make you even sleepier and therefore less mobile.