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Jet-setting to business meetings and conferences can be part of the job description when starting or growing your business, but adding up those frequent flyer miles can also put the brakes on your health. Confined spaces such as airplanes and meeting rooms are breeding grounds for viruses including the common cold and flu that are easily spread by hand to hand contact, not to mention the business lunches and dinners that have you ditching your regular diet and exercise regime.
New York City-based naturopathic physician, Sarah Cimperman, ND, says planning ahead can help ensure your trip is successful not only for your business, but for your health.
1. Boost your immune system before you go. Before your trip, fill up on foods rich in beta carotene, selenium and zinc. Beta carotene-rich foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash "maintain the cell membrane integrity and help to protect the body against bacterial, viral and parasitic infections," says Cimperman. Selenium-rich fish such as tuna, cod and shrimp increase the level of white blood cells in the body that help you fight bad bacteria found in new environments while foods high in zinc such as nuts and dairy help fight viral infections, ensuring your body has the back-up it needs when confronting new environmental stressors.
2. Pack supplements. While business dinners are often a trip highlight, deviating from your normal diet introduces the body to a host of unfamiliar microbes. Taking probiotics up to three days before travel and during your trip can ward off unwanted intestinal upsets, meaning you can enjoy local flavor without worrying about the after effects. "Having a healthy population of friendly intestinal bacteria will help protect against unfamiliar and unfriendly bacteria you may encounter in new environments," says Cimperman.
Other important supplements to consider are melatonin which can help the body adjust to changes in time zones and minimize jet lag, elderberry to ward off colds and flu viruses. If you don’t already take a multivitamin, Cimperman recommends stocking up ahead and during your trip. "A multi-vitamin can be helpful if you won’t be eating as healthily during travel," she says.
3. Try to stick to your regular sleep schedule. While exposure to new environments can affect your health, changes in sleep schedule are the most common cause of travel illness. "Sleeping different hours, whether a different number of hours or the same number of hours at different times, disrupts our circadian rhythm and the hormones that control our immunity and metabolism," says Cimperman. If you’re travelling during the hours you would normally be sleeping, pack a neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs or soothing music to help you catch some z’s and keep your body’s regular sleep cycle.
Related: How to Survive Long-Haul Flights
4. Avoid caffeine overload. Loading up on caffeine to stay awake in the airport or during business meetings can have adverse effects. "Drinking too much coffee will make it more difficult for your body to adjust to travel, which can negatively affect immunity, sleep and energy," says Cimperman, who recommends supplementing coffee for green tea. A natural stimulant, green tea contains significantly less caffeine and has many other health benefits including lowering cholesterol, improving immune function, stimulating proper digestion and fighting viral infections while still giving you the same clarity of mind and alertness during your travels as a cup of java.