Your new holiday health to-do list
After saving for it, shopping for it, maybe even shrinking for it, you’re determined that nothing – not even coronavirus – is going to ruin your holiday…
For those of us who are choosing to jet off this year, the experience is likely to be quite different from normal. But while we’ve got the hang of face masks on public transport and have made a habit of singing Happy Birthday twice-over internally while washing our hands, there are other hidden health hazards that are worth prepping for. Check these off your holiday to-do list and enjoy your break, the way you’re supposed to…
Tick it off: I’m not in the right headspace
If you’ve suffered from low mood, low motivation and anxiety throughout lockdown, they’re not necessarily going to switch off when you zip up your suitcase. And even if you haven’t, we tend to load our trips with expectation, and take on more work before we leave, piling on the pressure.
According to the Institute of Leadership & Management, 73% of people feel stressed in the run-up to a holiday. ‘If plenty of sleep and eating well help you maintain your mental equilibrium, then keep doing that,’ says clinical psychologist Dr Catherine Wikholm, co-author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? (Watkins Publishing, £10.99). ‘There is nothing wrong with staying up late, drinking more than usual and eating heavy meals once in a while, but keep a watchful eye that it doesn’t negatively affect your mood.’
Bookmark online support sites on your phone and prime a friend in case you need back-up. ‘Have someone to call in case you’re struggling,’ says Dr Wikholm. ‘Pick someone you can be honest with.’ But other than that, put your phone away. ‘A holiday is a time to connect with people you are actually with. Just enjoy your experience, be present with your companions and forget about comparing your travels with anyone else’s.’
Tick it off: I haven’t thought about my exercise habits
For many of us, it wouldn’t be a holiday without some brilliant opportunities to exercise differently – and more luxuriously. The hotel gym is a few floors away, you can see the pool from your balcony and those new running routes are just the fitness inspiration you’ve needed. But each change from the norm should be approached with a tiny bit of caution, especially in the age of coronavirus.
‘It’s ironic, but I see people coming back from holidays all the time with infections and injuries caused by taking exercise while away,’ says GP Dr Arun Ghosh, who cites poorly maintained equipment, lack of supervision and hygiene issues as big things to watch for. ‘Beware lifting heavier weights than you should, and look out for things such as frayed cables on equipment and trip hazards such as mats left out on the floor.’
Even in five-star hotels, gyms can have their issues. ‘Obviously people sweat over equipment, so there’s a chance of picking up an infection.’ Dr Ghosh advises that you wash your hands thoroughly before, after and during a gym visit and make sure you don’t touch your eyes or mouth with your hands while working out. ‘The very best way to avoid picking up bacteria, viruses or fungi is washing with hot soapy water, and lots of it,’ he says. ‘Wipe clean machines before using them. And if you are planning on joining a Pilates or yoga class, take your own yoga mat or use a towel over the gym’s mat.’
If you’re heading out for a run or long swim, ‘you can easily get dehydrated, even if you’re in the sea,’ says Dr Ghosh. ‘Never exercise in the heat. Even early mornings can be very hot in some countries, which is why locals often exercise in the evening, after dark. Just make sure you think things through and plan ahead.’
Tick it off: Could I come down with leisure sickness?
You’ve probably had this before – when you go on holiday, start to relax, then promptly become unwell. ‘What’s usually going on is that you are already incubating,’ says immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi. ‘But if you are busy before a holiday, your body will be producing a lot of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system. Once you finally relax, it kicks in and starts fighting the infection. That’s when you get symptoms such as a runny nose.’
It’s also vitally important to wear a face mask, wash your hands regularly and abide by social-distancing measures if you do decide to fly. If you are seated close to an infected plane passenger, you have an 80% chance of catching a bug yourself, says US research. ‘When people are cooped up and in the dry air of a plane, infection spreads easily,’ says Dr Macciochi.
Also be aware of the potential stress to your immune system caused by diet changes. ‘Much of our immunity is based in our microbiome, the gut flora in our digestive system,’ says Dr Macciochi. ‘If this comes under fire from unfamiliar food, it can suppress it.’ Take pre- and probiotics during your holiday and in the run-up and get enough sleep. ‘Being over-tired inevitably means your immune system can’t function at its best,’ she warns.
Read more: How good gut health can boost your immunity
Remember: if you start to display coronavirus symptoms when you are on holiday – if you have a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss, or change to your smell, or taste – you should stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and follow local public health guidance. Your travel insurance provider should be able to advise you on what to do and what cover you are eligible for.