How to stay healthy while you travel

You plan, you pack, you activate your out-of-office message-you don't want your vacation ruined with back pain, jet lag, or worse. The reality is that as much as you need to get away to relieve stress, travel can take a toll on your body. "Changing your routine ramps up levels of stress hormones, which can wreak havoc on your immune system and disrupt your sleep," says Steven Lamm, MD, a clinical assistant professor at New York University. So if you want to feel happy, healthy, and alert, follow this advice to:

Prevent Back Pain

Ship your luggage to your destination in advance. Save time--and your spine--by going to and scheduling a pickup. Your bags can be delivered within 24 hours in the United States.

En route: Get out of your seat every hour to stretch your legs and walk around the cabin, suggests Arya Nick Shamie, MD, assistant professor of spine surgery at UCLA (if you're driving make frequent rest stops). And angle vents away from you: Cool air can stiffen your neck and shoulder muscles, says Steven Conway, DC, spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association.

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Soothe Your Stomach

Take probiotics--healthy bacteria found in food or supplements that may help reduce gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A study in the British Medical Journal found that people taking certain probiotics had fewer diarrhea symptoms after 3 days than those who didn't take them. Get your dose in pill form, Lamm suggests. "One capsule of the brand Culturelle has about 10 times more probiotics than fortified foods." Start popping supplements a few days before your trip.

En route: Bring CharcoCaps, activated charcoal tablets that you can swallow before takeoff to help absorb gas, suggests gastroenterologist Patricia Raymond, MD. All that gum chewing and candy sucking you do to relieve pressure in your ears may cause "jet bloat," and the higher the altitude, the more the gas in your body expands.

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Beat Jet Lag

Pack melatonin supplements. Your body produces melatonin on its own, but if you're traveling, your internal clock may get thrown off. In a 2006 study from the journal Sleep, researchers found that people who took as little as 0.3 mg of melatonin got about a half-hour more snooze time.

En route: Reset your watch to the destination's time as soon as you board the plane, says Lamm--and if you're scheduled to arrive in the morning, try to sleep during the flight. If necessary, talk with your doctor about a prescription sleep aid, such as Ambien.

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Fight Off New Germs

Avoid coffee and sip some warm green or black tea with lemon, recommends Murray Grossan, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor in Los Angeles. Both are high in helpful antioxidants. Plus, it keeps you hydrated: A study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Research found that dry airplane air increases your risk of getting a case of the sniffles. A thin layer of mucus in your nose and throat normally flushes out bacteria and viruses, but when air is dry, this lining gets parched, leaving you vulnerable to infection. Nasal sprays and gels, such as Breathe.ease XL Nasal Moisturizing Gel, can also help.

On arrival: Wash your hands frequently. Recently, researchers from the University of Virginia Health System found that hotel rooms were teeming with germs. It's hard to avoid cold viruses on remote controls and light switches--so suds up frequently.

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