Getting sick when you’re on the road is the pits! Not only is it still an exceptionally awkward time to be coughing or sneezing on an aeroplane, but whether it’s another bout of COVID or a common cold, being unwell can really mess with your trip. Long-haul transit and adjusting to new timezones can tire your body out, which can make it more susceptible to all the germs it’s encountering in foreign places. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, it’s therefore a brilliant idea to build your immune system up before you leave.
Our immune systems defend our bodies against infection – identifying viruses, bacteria or parasites that aren’t supposed to be there, then booting them out. Our immune systems also keeps a record of every germ they’ve ever battled, so that if that germ enters your body again, it can be recognised and destroyed more easily. When our immune systems are weakened, germs can invade our bodies more easily, making us unwell.
Below, we’ve collated a series of tips to help you optimise your immune system before you travel. And if you do get sick on your next journey, feel free to get in touch with us via the app or on the phone – whether it’s to make a health-related travel insurance claim or to be put in touch with our savvy team of medical experts, who are available 24/7.
When it comes to maintaining your immune function, vitamins A, D, E, B6 and B12 – along with minerals like iron and zinc – are super important. We already know that we are what we eat, so the best way to get these nutrients is through your diet. Consume a solid variety of lean protein sources: chicken, fish red meat, tofu and legumes. Ensure you’re also munching on plenty of colourful vegetables and fruit. We’re always sharing yummy recipes from around the world in our weekly newsletter, so if you’re stuck for inspo, check out some of our past editions.
Ramp up your vitamin C intake
Vitamin C can help reduce the duration of a cold – and maybe even the severity of symptoms, though more research needs to be done in this area. Eat lots of green leafy vegetables, along with fruits like oranges, strawberries and kiwi – especially whe you feel a cold starting to take hold.
Move your body
Your immune system gets a good boost from physical activity, and active people who come down with a virus actually tend to have less symptoms. Moreover, it’s been shown that people who are physically active and healthier can usually fight infections more easily. Do note, however, that prolonged and intense exercise can actually suppress your immune system – so don’t overdo it! Australia’s national guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five times every week: so go for a stroll, do some gardening or join a local gym class.
Get enough sleep
Seven or more hours of sleep per night is recommended for optimal health – easier said than done, we know, but sleep deprivation shuts down your immune response, which means germs can weasel their way in and take control more easily. If you’re having trouble snoozing, try putting lavender oil on your pillow, keep away from screens as you near bedtime (that’s a huge one!) and consider investing in an eye mask and some earplugs to create optimum silence and darkness.
Reduce your stress levels
Our stress response exists to protect us from threats, like sabre-toothed tigers and an overflowing inbox at work. When we’re put in fight or flight situations, adrenaline and cortisol are released, which increase our blood pressure and heart rate – providing essential function for us to deal with whatever stressor is at hand. These hormones also blunt our immune systems. Though once the threat is gone, our bodies return to their normal states, if we are constantly under stress, our immune system remains suppressed.
Following this, it’s important we learn how to manage our stress to prevent chronic health problems arising. Consider asking your boss if you can work from home one day a week (if that privilege is accessible to you), exploring meditation or whatever kind of therapy works for you or – if your stress comes from trauma-induced sadness or anger – allocating a certain part of each day to feel into those emotions rather than letting them interrupt you at random moments.
The importance of the gut microbiome is starting to get mainstream recognition, and accordingly, probiotics are gaining traction. These good bacteria have been shown to have a positive impact on symptoms of anxiety and depression. Though further studies are needed to clarify which strains of bacteria do what, in the meantime, you can either consume probiotics in capsule form or get them through foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and pickles.
We all know very well by now that smoking ciggies suppresses our immune systems. It does this by reducing the level of antioxidants in our blood, and it’s antioxidants such as vitamin C that help our immune systems stay functional. In addition to this, smokers are more susceptible to infections, especially lung-related ones such as pneumonia and influenza – not things you want to be getting on the road!
Good luck out there, Freelies.