During my recent PBS tour, I boarded a plane 15 of the 16 days I was travelling; I was in a new city every day. The challenge for me is staying healthy and mentally sharp when I travel. In addition to needing my brain to function at 110% for a live TV show every evening, I have dozens of e-mails to respond to, patient issues in my clinic to address, and articles to write—so truly I need to stay productive while I am on the road. Now on the 16th day of this tour, and on my final flight headed home, I am thinking of sharing tips that might help you in a similar situation.
Finding healthy food can be a challenge, a regular workout routine might get skipped, and a good night’s sleep may become elusive with a different hotel room every night. It is also far too easy to get stressed out when on the road.
Below is a list of five tips I use to stay healthy, productive, and mentally sharp during heavy travel. I hope some of these will be helpful to you.
Make good food choices when traveling
Start by bringing some healthy options along with you. I try to carry a few packs of nuts (almonds or pistachios) in 1-2 ounce bags. I always have a few protein bars with me (look for protein bars with at least 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and not more than 2-3 grams of sugar). We have started carrying some protein bars in our clinic that meet all these criteria and taste great. Click here to view our protein and fiber bars.
Breakfast is easy. I do not have my normal protein shake I enjoy at home, so I order either a veggie omelet, oatmeal with fruit, or have scrambled eggs with a side of fruit, plus a couple cups of coffee. For lunch, I can usually order a salad with a choice of lean protein and unsweetened iced tea. I enjoy nuts or a protein bar for an afternoon snack. Dinner features a side salad, lean protein and a double vegetable portion instead of the starch (rice, pasta, potatoes) often offered. Typically, I have 1-2 glasses of wine with dinner (though during the PBS tour I am recording live (after dinner), so I hydrate with water or unsweetened iced tea instead. When I can, I find a piece of fruit to have when I get back to my room at night.
Schedule your work out each day
I nearly always stay at a hotel with a gym. I prefer to work out in the morning to start my day, but I am not willing to lose sleep to get it in, so sometimes I work out in the afternoon. The challenge is building a time into my schedule and keeping it. When my work is in the evening, such as a live PBS show, I typically have an early am flight each day, so I schedule a time in the gym right before dinner. It wakes me up and clears my mind, and helps to ensure I will sleep better. Almost every hotel I stay in has at least an elliptical machine and stationary bicycle, and I spend 15-20 minutes on each, and use some of their free weights afterwards if they have any.
How to sleep better in a hotel
I find achieving a good night sleep in a different hotel every night a major challenge. However, several things clearly help.
Darkness is key for a good night sleep, but I really dislike waking at night and not being able to find the bathroom in the dark; I keep my cell phone next to my bed so I have a light if needed during the night. Hotel rooms often have all sorts of appliances with red, white, and blue lights that shine in the dark. Either I put on eye covers to ensure darkness, or I might cover a few of the appliances (like clocks) with towels or a pillow, including the slot under the door if it is bright.
Studies have shown that a cool room helps one sleep more soundly, so I typically set the thermostat during the night to 70 degrees.
There are supplements that help with sleep. Melatonin is not very helpful for regular sleep, but it does help with jet lag when shifting back and forth between the east and west coasts. GABA is a compound that helps achieve deeper stages of sleep, and valerian is an herbal compound that has been shown to help with sleep as well. My online store carries a combination of these three agents in a supplement called Insomnitol, and I frequently take it at bedtime when I am traveling multiple nights in a row. It is not habit forming (like more traditional sleeping medications), and does not leave you groggy in the morning either.
Do not overdo caffeine or alcohol
It is all too easy to overuse alcohol when traveling, so I aim to ensure I do not have more than 2 cups of coffee in the morning, and limit my alcohol intake to dinner only. When flying on a plane. My favorite beverage is club soda with a slice of lemon. It is very refreshing and hydrating.
Make time for meditation or prayer time
Having traveled to nearly 100 countries, I have been on flights in distant countries that have scared the heck out of me. Somewhere in my past, I began saying a prayer during take-off and landing. In recent years, I have expanded this to a mini-meditation session, lasting 5 minutes. I sit up straight, put my feet on the floor, close my eyes, take long slow deep breaths, and pray or simply meditate. There are many forms of meditation; what works for me , after I pray is to take a series of deep, slow breaths while imagining a green-glowing, healthy energy pour in through my feet, up my legs, into my heart, and out into my hands. Every time I breathe out, I feel the same energy the same energy flow in the opposite direction. After only 5 minutes, it’s pretty amazing, but I feel calm and restored.
You can modify this process to fit your preferences, but be sure to allow a minimum of 5 minutes to allow your body and mind to relax. When I am not traveling, I like to do this same type of meditation after my exercise routine in the gym 2-3 days per week.
I hope some of these travel tips benefit you when you are away from home.
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
DR MASLEY RECOMMENDS
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