How holidays can harm your health

JANE E. FRASER
Last updated 12:35 18/01/2013
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RELAX WITH RESTRAINT: Jane Fraser talks you through how to enjoy your holidays without harming your health - a morning swim is top of her list.

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Made a New Year's resolution to be fitter, healthier and less stressed? Don't let an indulgent holiday be your undoing.

There's nothing like a holiday to help you stack on some extra kilos or put your liver to the test.

When we go away, we tend to eat more, drink more, abandon exercise and suffer from disrupted sleep patterns - all of which can be counter-intuitive to coming home feeling relaxed and refreshed.

Travel can also bring about stressful situations, such as finding yourself at the wrong end of the airport or on the wrong side of an immigration official.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel did a landmark study recently on travel stress and health challenges, surveying 6000 travellers around the world.

Although the survey was intended to identify the causes of stress and the health impacts of business travel, many of the findings are equally relevant to leisure travellers.

Here are some of the key stress points and ways to lessen their effect, so you enjoy calmer and healthier travels in 2013.

NOT BEING ABLE TO EAT HEALTHILY

This was identified as one of the key challenges for travellers, with meal routines replaced all too easily by fast food or raids on minibar snacks (M&Ms for dinner, anyone?).

For shorter trips, I always carry healthy snacks such as nuts and dried fruit so I don't have to eat an awful muffin on the plane. It also means I have something handy in case of delay or a late-night arrival at a hotel.

If you're flying long-haul, have a look at the meal options when you book; today's choices include vegetarian, low-kilojoule, low-sugar, fat-free and gluten-intolerant meals. Many airlines now also mark their menus with healthier options and nutritional information, so you can make better choices on board.

The manager of food and beverage for Singapore Airlines, Hermann Freidanck, recommends eating light, easily digested meals during a long flight, and a high-protein meal on arrival.

Freidanck says such a meal, an egg breakfast for example, will help travellers stay active and adapt to a new time zone.

NOTHING TO WEAR... LITERALLY 

Lost or delayed baggage was the No.1 cause of travel stress among those surveyed, with women suffering most of all.

Travelling with hand baggage only is obviously the best way to avoid lost luggage, but if you're going on a longer trip, there are steps you can take to lessen the chances of your bag going walkabout.

A tough and detailed bag tag is most important to act as a back-up if the airline barcode gets torn off. Make sure it includes a way you can be contacted in your travels and the address of where you are heading; Australian company Stick'nGo (stickngo.com.au) makes tags that are perfect for this.

Avoiding tight connections is also important, as bags often fail to make flights that travellers have run to catch.

And it never hurts to have a change of underwear and a few toiletries in your carry-on luggage, as long as you stick to mini bottles of liquids to avoid having them taken away by security.

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ABANDONING EXERCISE ROUTINES

I learnt a long time ago that using travel as an excuse to let exercise go is just playing a cruel trick on yourself.

If you're used to being active, sitting around can make you feel rotten, and you soon find you're not enjoying those restaurant meals as much as you should be.

These days, it is not uncommon for me to sit down with my holiday itinerary and schedule in a few exercise sessions, such as a morning run before a long flight or swimming some laps before a big dinner.

Walking, running and swimming are the best forms of holiday exercise, as they require little equipment - you can always fit a swimsuit and pair of goggles into your bag - and in the case of pavement-pounding, it can be part of your sightseeing.

I use a mobile phone application called Map My Run that uses GPS technology to track how far I have run or walked ... and to help me find my way back to the hotel afterwards.

JET LAG

Adapting to different time zones ranked surprisingly low down the list of challenges for those in the survey, with issues such as indirect flights and inconvenient departure and arrival times considered more of a hassle.

But lying awake in the middle of the night and feeling as though your head is packed with cotton wool is certainly not conducive to enjoying your holiday.

There are still no miracle cures for jet lag, although some travellers swear by melatonin tablets, which are said to help the body adjust its circadian rhythms.

Most advice centres on limiting or avoiding alcohol, going easy on caffeine and drinking plenty of water... boring, but generally effective.

My best piece of advice is to immediately adopt the time zone at your destination, no matter how tired you are.

Force yourself to stay up in daylight hours and go to bed at night, so you can get into a new rhythm.

NEGOTIATING AIRPORTS

Many travellers surveyed by Carlson Wagonlit identified getting through customs and immigration as one of the biggest causes of stress, along with getting to the airport on time.

In the age of heightened airport security, it is simply not worth cutting it fine at the airport; allow yourself the full three hours that is recommended and treat yourself to a coffee or a glass of wine when you've made it through the formalities.

On arrival at your destination, make sure you have your passport, airline tickets, hotel reservations and other travel documents together in your hand luggage, as some countries like to see proof of travel plans before granting entry.

In terms of getting to the airport, it is best to ask a local or hotel concierge about the most efficient and cost-effective option.

A taxi is not necessarily the way to go; airport trains are generally hard to beat for travel time and ease.

SHORT BREAKS CAN FALL SHORT 

Holidaymakers need to spend at least six nights away from home to really feel the benefits of a break, according to research by Expedia.

Getting a long way away also brings more satisfaction, according to the 2012 study that brought together a mathematician, a psychologist and travel experts in an attempt to find the equation for the perfect holiday.

The expert panel interviewed more than 1000 travellers and found that those who spent at least six nights away and travelled for at least nine hours on a plane were the most satisfied holidaymakers.

The study also found there were benefits from travelling either with a partner or four friends, with groups of two or five deemed the best for happy travels.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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