Winter travel comes with extra baggage: germs. It’s easy to get sick when the flu and viruses stalk airplanes, trains, and hotels. Of course, loading up on Vitamin C, washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water, taking herbs with superpowers, and using hand sanitizer will help keep illness away. But there’s more you can do. Here are some tips that go the extra mile to boost your immune system.
Random acts of kindness
Smile. According to a recent survey by Dignity Health, one of the nation’s largest health systems, two out of three Americans said a smile or greeting from another traveler would make them feel less stressed while traveling — more than any other kind gesture, like holding the door open for another person or letting a person go ahead of you in a line if they’re running late to catch a flight.
“Acts of kindness can keep us healthy by releasing chemicals in the pleasure center of our brains, such as serotonin and oxytocin,” says Dr. Sara Whatley-Dustin, family medicine physician at Dignity Health. “Anxiety lowers our immune system and therefore makes us more susceptible to illness.”
Mother knows best
Talia Segal Fidler, nutritionist at The Lodge at Woodloch, a destination spa resort in Pennsylvania, suggests taking a page from Mother Nature’s recipe box to beat a winter cold or virus. “If you eat with the seasons, you will be giving your body exactly what it needs,” she says. This includes winter greens like chard, kale, cabbage, and collards for fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Also, root veggies like beets, sweet potatoes, and turnips provide immune system-loving minerals and Vitamin A. And, citrus fruits from warmer climes in the winter months are Vitamin C-rich and hydrating, help your body absorb other nutrients, and are anti-bacterial, too.
New York City-based Kemi Adewumi, founder and CEO of Go Galavant, a group trip travel platform for travelers “who hate group travel,” just returned from an eight-month travel stint and swears by covering your “face holes” on flights, long train rides, and long bus rides. “Yes, you’ll look like patient zero, but you’ll avoid actually being patient zero,” she says.
She “started out with scarves,” and now uses the mouth masks, like the kind that doctors use during surgery (you can find the masks on Amazon or in some drug stores). You can also buy “fun-looking reusable ones,” says Adewumi, which, of course, require washing after use.
Your nose, throat, and lungs use a special part of the immune system called IgA to fight infections on moist surfaces, says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, board-certified internal medicine physician and author of “Real Cause, Real Cure.” “You can think of it as the body’s Navy. Just like the Navy, it works very poorly on dry surfaces. So, drinking plenty of water (not sodas, as the sugar in one can of soda suppresses immune function by 30 percent) or hot tea (which loosens the secretions so they can be coughed out) can be very helpful in preventing and fighting respiratory infections.”
Strike a pose
Liz Zabel, co-manager of the Emerson Spa at Emerson Resort & Spa in the Catskills (named for Ralph Waldo Emerson), is a certified yoga instructor who has practiced for more than a decade. Zabel endorses easy, quick yoga poses to ward off winter travel bugs. “To change the blood flow and redirect pranic energy, lay on the floor for a few moments with your legs lifted over your head and against a wall,” says Zabel. “This simple pose, Legs Up the Wall, will help relieve stress and spark the body’s inner ability to heal itself.” The pose is especially helpful because it does not add any stress to the body, it calms the nervous system and helps regulate blood flow.
Breathing, including yawning, can also help the immune system bully germs. “If you find yourself holding back any yawns (or sighs) throughout the day,” says Zabel, “try letting them go. Yawning and sighing can help to cool your brain down from clotting and is a natural way for your body to wake itself up. It also improves the circulation to your brain by carrying more oxygen through the bloodstream and moving more carbon dioxide out.”
“One of the most powerful ways to immune suppress an animal is to sleep deprive it,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Humans are no different. The average night’s sleep in the United States until light bulbs were invented 140 years ago was nine hours a night. We are now down to six and three-quarter hours. This is a contributing factor in the increasing immune dysfunction being seen today.”
Dr. Rand McClain, chief medical officer at Santa Monica, Calif.-based LCR Health, also emphasizes sleep. “The most important immune supporting tool that I see most in the Western world eschew is adequate sleep,” says Dr. McClain. He recommends seven to nine hours a night and routinely at the same time period, such as 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. nightly, rather than at varying times. “So, if not always, then before traveling awhile on the road, pay attention to getting adequate sleep,” he says.
Laurie Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.