For most of us, it’s been quite a while since we last boarded a plane, navigated a new city, or explored anywhere beyond our sanitized bubbles. But now, decision-makers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are saying fully vaccinated people have the go-ahead to book domestic travel. So, with a big post-pandemic trip on the horizon, it’s time to start thinking about ways to fortify your immune system after more than a year of laying low. It’s not a secret that traveling can take an unforgiving toll on the body. Even prior to the pandemic, savvy jetsetters knew the importance of prioritizing their health before, during, and after a vacation. But is it actually possible for you to boost your immunity?
The fact is, our immune systems are a bit of a mystery—one that researchers are still trying to fully decode. Generally speaking, our immune systems do a miraculous job defending our bodies against disease-causing microorganisms and pathogens. But as the name suggests, it’s an entire system, not a singular entity, so there are many moving parts.
As scientists continue exploring the links between factors like age, diet, and exercise on our overall immune response, there are several lifestyle habits that can help strengthen your body’s natural defenses. We tapped a range of experts to find out what travelers can do to stay healthy on the road and avoid a post-vacation trip to the doctor. We divided their tips into “before,” “during,” and “after” buckets, but you can use many of these pointers in conjunction year-round to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
How to Boost Your Immunity Before a Trip:
1. Get Fully Vaccinated
“From a medical perspective, it’s important to get the Covid-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to traveling,” says Puja Uppal, DO, board-certified family medicine physician and founder/chief medical officer of Think Healthy. She also recommends ensuring you’re up to date on all of your vaccines. Think other contagious infections, such as shingles, hepatitis A, and diphtheria. Last but not least, she advises to “familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Travel advisory page.” There, you’ll find the latest recommendations regarding domestic travel and plenty of other helpful resources.
2. Focus on Eating Healthy, Nutrient-Dense Foods
“The gut is literally ground zero for a healthy immune system,” says Steven Gundry, MD, one of the world’s top cardiothoracic surgeons, a pioneer in nutrition, and a New York Times best-selling author of numerous books (including his recent release, The Energy Paradox). “Not only does our microbiome defend against invading bacteria and viruses, [but] if functioning properly, it educates our immune system about friends and foes we encounter and empowers it to fight against foreign invaders like the Coronavirus.”
Ilene Ruhoy, MD, Ph.D, founder of the Center for Healing Neurology and Gut Council Member for Jetson recommends eating plenty of red, orange, and green vegetables. “Phytochemicals found in golden or yellow beets, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, nectarines, and pomegranates have intense anti-inflammatory activity,” she says.
3. Promote Good Sleep Hygiene
It’s easy staying up ‘til the wee hours of the morning, but all that late-night binge-watching can have detrimental effects. “The best way to boost your immune system when traveling, or prior to it, is by taking care of your sleep,” says Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepingOcean. “Studies show that lack of sleep, or its poor quality, can affect some of the functions of the immune system and often leads to higher risks of infections and certain diseases.”
One of his hacks for getting a better night’s rest includes sticking to a regular sleep schedule and factoring in time zone changes before you take off. “If your future travels will involve jet lag, you can prepare for that beforehand,” he advises. “Start shifting your schedule slightly toward the time zone you’re going to be traveling to. You can shift your bedtime in 20- to 30-minute increments every few days to make the transition to the new time zone a bit easier.”
You can also stock up on these sleep-boosting products to help.
Illustration by Will Dolan
How to Boost Immunity During Your Trip:
4. Don’t Forget to Stay Hydrated
While you might be good about drinking enough water in your typical day-to-day life, it’s easy to slip up when you’re out of your regular routine. But don’t let that be an excuse. “Travelers can boost their immune systems before, during, and after travel by staying hydrated,” says Grant Hosking, co-founder of Total Hydration. “Proper hydration is critical in order for your body to function properly. Water is found in every cell in the body, which means it’s part of all the tissues, organs, and systems we need to function and feel our best.” He also recommends maintaining a proper balance of electrolytes. Depending on where your travels take you, it might be a good idea to stick with bottled water or boil tap water before taking a gulp.
5. Consider Adding Supplements to the Mix
In addition to eating nutritious foods, you may opt to bolster your immune system by taking supplements. Gundry recommends the following:
Minimum of 5,000 to 10,000 I.U.s a day of vitamin D3
1,000 mg of timed-release vitamin C twice a day (or chewing or swallowing 500 mg four times a day)
~100-200 mcg of selenium per day
500 mg of quercetin per day
500 mg of green tea (or its extract EGCG) per day
30 mg of Zinc lozenges per day may be useful too
“All of these are useful supplements to support the immune system,” Gundry says. There’s no magic formula that will do the trick for everyone, so you can always consult your physician to develop a personalized game plan.
6. Practice Self-Care and Stress Management
The whole point of taking a vacation is to escape the worries of everyday life. But in reality, it can be pretty stressful. “Traveling logistics alone can be exhausting, such as arriving on time at the airport or on the road, booking a hotel or Airbnb, planning excursions, and so on,” says Jolene Caufield, senior advisor at Healthy Howard, a non-profit organization advocating for healthy lifestyle choices. “Most people use unhealthy coping strategies to deal with this, such as bingeing, drinking, or smoking. To avoid this, set aside time before, during, and after your trip for healthy self-care,” she says.
“Minimize any stress by getting outside daily for at least an hour,” suggests John La Puma, M.D., board-certified internist, founder of EcoMedicine, and New York Times best-selling author. “Time in nature has been shown to lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve immunity. Nature activates your natural killer cells, which are an important first defense against viruses.”
Luckily, that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish during your next getaway.
Illustration by Will Dolan
How to Boost Immunity After a Trip:
7. Break Out the Disinfectant
Germs are pesky little buggers. No matter how much hand sanitizer you pumped during a trip, they’re bound to find you. “Sanitize everything before you enter the house,” says Max Harland, CEO of Dentaly. “Even if you use the best safety practices while traveling, you still manage to accumulate certain germs and microbes. For instance, your clothes and backpacks harbor dust and germs just through outside exposure. So, it’s important to eliminate them before you enter your personal space,” he says. Harland recommends using sanitizing spray and wipes to disinfect your clothes, luggage, and other personal belongings after returning home. “This helps you avoid any unwanted risk and guards your immunity,” he adds.
8. Lay off the Booze
This might be hard to stomach, but going sober during and after a vacation can help you stay healthy. “I know that when you stay at beachy resorts there are unlimited opportunities to indulge in alcoholic beverages, but alcohol has been shown to suppress numerous immune responses in the body,” says Chris Airey, MD, medical director at Optimale, a telehealth clinic for men with low testosterone. “This can lead to an inability to fight off viruses as effectively. So, it’s worth reigning in your piña colada consumption if you’re wanting to boost your immune system,” he says. “Try abstaining from alcohol for the month following your vacation in order to give your immune system some time to recover,” which can help avoid coming down with an illness after your trip.
9. Get Back to Your Fitness Regimen
We know it can be tough snapping back to reality after taking a vacation. But don’t let that throw you off your game (especially if you’ve already been slacking due to social isolation and non-stop Zoom calls). “Physical activity improves circulation of immune cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines, helping your immune system work better, as well as decreasing stress hormones, which may help protect against respiratory infections like SARS-CoV-2,” says Reggie Wilson, the guilt-free weight loss coach for entrepreneurs at Fit for Freelance, which builds adaptive business leaders through compassionate health coaching. “Having a regular exercise routine also improves cardiovascular conditioning while decreasing factors that can make COVID-19 more dangerous.”
The good news is you don’t need gym access to increase physical activity and get your health goals back on track. “You’ll see benefits from walking, cycling, yoga, using stairs, and bodyweight exercises,” he says.
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