How to keep your gut healthy when you travel

Trambling can put you in a great state of mind and body and open the door to new opportunities for adventure and fun. However, the travel aspect itself can be a struggle. This is even more true for those who tend to get stressed before a flight or get nauseous during long car journeys. Anxiety can worsen common forms of physical discomfort, such as stiff muscles or back pain, as well as gas or constipation—all of which are often associated with travel and longer bouts of standing and sitting.

And this can lead to intestinal problems. “When you sit for a long period of time or are immobile, your intestinal motility decreases, which means the gas that’s in your gut gets trapped in your gut and you don’t expel it,” says board-certified gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, FACP. DABIM. Plus, when you can’t get up and poop or fart, you’re likely to experience bloating and additional discomfort.

“The second reason you get super gassy on airplanes is physics—Boyle’s Law to be exact,” says Dr. Sonpal. When you go up in an airplane, the pressure on the intestines increases. “Boyle’s law dictates that if you observe a vessel full of gas – such as a balloon or a human intestine – at a constant temperature, you will see that as the pressure around it decreases, the bubble expands and vice versa,” he says.

This is why your intestines can become distended and filled with gas when you travel and in flight. It also explains why you’re more prone to farting and stomach cramps during and after the flight as the body adjusts, finally releasing that pent-up gas.

The good news is that you can take advantage of your gut health when you travel with a few simple tips. Here are a few to keep in mind the next time you’re on the go, courtesy of Dr. Sonpal.

How to maintain gut health when traveling

Drink lots of water

Hydration is especially important when traveling because it can reduce gas, bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain. “I tell patients to drink a bottle before, during, and even after the flight,” says Dr. Sonpal. Keep your reusable water bottle handy and drink water (or some kind of hydrating fluid with electrolytes) every hour or so and regularly throughout the day. Make it your goal to start this practice the day before your trip and maintain it the day after you reach your destination.

Maintain a regular sleep pattern

Sleep without an established normal pattern can wreak havoc on the gut and digestive system. “The GI system likes predictability, so a good night’s sleep allows the colon to work and keep you regular,” he says. “If you don’t sleep, it doesn’t work properly and you get constipated and bloated,” explains Dr. Sonpal.

This can be difficult when traveling to destinations that are international as there is a time difference aspect and adjustment. However, it’s better to adjust to the pace of your destination if you can, and maintain a typical sleep pattern and schedule that aligns with day and night.

Walk and move

Walking as much as possible or maintaining some level of regular activity and movement can help prevent constipation and excess gas. “If you’re walking, you’re contracting your bowel muscles, so things in your bowels, like gas, will be released the way they should be while you’re moving,” says Dr. Sonpal. In addition, any form of movement is also good for increasing blood flow and circulation, which reduces the risk of blood clots or swelling in the feet and ankles. This is especially important during flight due to the need to sit for long periods of time, the dehydrating effects of flying and the higher altitude.

Another bonus of getting up to stretch your legs? You can discreetly let off gas. “Walking on the plane or walking around the airport beforehand will allow you to dissipate the gas and perhaps ease any anxiety you might feel about farting when sitting next to a stranger,” says Dr. Sonpal. Movement means you’re less likely to be labeled a fart—or better yet, take a bathroom break and let it all out.

The same goes for long car rides as a mode of travel. Stop at a local coffee shop or explore a new area on the way to your destination, or even just schedule a few rest breaks to get some steps in.

Eat enough fiber

Eating fiber is extremely important for gut and digestive health, and you can get a nice variety from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, probiotics and prebiotics, beans and legumes.

“Fiber, all day every day, is key,” says Dr. Sonpal. “You have to think of fiber as weightlifting for the colon, where if you skip a session, your colon won’t feel as good,” he says. Consider how your body reacts to missed weight training and how your arm and leg muscles may feel weaker as the missed time passes.

“The same goes for travel and fiber, and if you miss a few days or are not consistent with your fiber intake, you end up with constipation and then gas,” says Dr. Sonpal. A good tip: eat vegetables before traveling, as they are rich in fiber.

“I always recommend a salad before a flight,” says Dr. Sonpal. Include other forms of fiber from vegetables that are easy to digest, as well as healthy lean proteins or oily fish as toppings, and integrate heart-healthy fats into the dressing.

An avocado or olive oil-based salad dressing is a good idea here, as the inflammation-busting healthy fats are good for your body, and with avocado, you also get some extra protein and fiber. It’s a delicious thing to eat on the go – and it’ll keep your gastrointestinal system working.

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