Travel can keep you active and healthy, but to enjoy your journey, make sure you are well prepared.
Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Thinkstock
Travel at any age is not only fun and exciting but also good medicine. “Experiencing new places often stimulates positive reactions,” says Dr. Esteban Franco-Garcia, a geriatric physician with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “It helps you remain physically active and offers the brain new challenges.”
In fact, a survey of American travelers reported by the Global Coalition on Aging found that 93% felt happier after time away, 77% believed their health improved afterward, and about 80% said travel increased their productivity, energy, and focus.
Regular sojourns may even help you live longer. Results from the Framingham Heart Study found that among 12,000 men at high risk for heart disease, those who did not take an annual vacation had a 32% greater risk of death.
It does not matter where you go (home or abroad) or for how long (three-day weekends or week-long getaways) or under what circumstances (with family, friends, or an organized tour). Yet, to stay safe and healthy during your travels, you need to do more than pack the right clothes. Make sure to check off these items before you depart.
Health insurance plans may have limited coverage outside your state and especially when travelling overseas. In general, Medicare will not pay for health care outside the U.S. However, in some situations, Medicare will cover inpatient hospital care, ambulance services, or dialysis in a foreign hospital if it is closer than the nearest U.S. medical facility. (For more information on this issue, visit Medicare’s website at http://1.usa.gov/1qoOMWM.) You also may want to purchase travel medical insurance. Some companies offer this as well as other types of insurance, such as trip cancellation and accidental death, with rates about 5% to 15% of your trip’s total cost. A good starting place is the aggregator site www.insuremytrip.com, which provides quotes based on your insurance needs. However, you should research the companies separately before selecting a plan.
You should be up to date on routine vaccines, including a seasonal flu shot and a tetanus booster (a majority of tetanus cases involve people over 65). Also, a 2015 report from the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that more than half of Americans traveling internationally did not have the required vaccines for measles or hepatitis A. “Consult your doctor at least six weeks before an extended trip to learn what vaccines you may need,” says Dr. Franco-Garcia. Some vaccines are given in a series and may take a few weeks to complete and take effect.
Pack more than enough medication for your time away—your regular dosage plus 10% to 20% more. “This protects you in case you lose some or have to stay longer than planned,” says Dr. Franco-Garcia. Also, if your doctor recommends it, plan to bring along medication for altitude sickness or diarrhea, but check with your doctor about possible interactions with your prescriptions. Keep a list of your medications (both generic and brand names), dosage, any chronic medical problems, and your doctor’s contact information in case of an emergency. “Always have it on your body and share with your spouse or travel partner,” says Dr. Franco-Garcia.
Train for your travel
What kind of activities will you do—extensive walking, standing, sitting, stair climbing? Prepare as if you were training for an athletic event, says Dr. Franco-Garcia. A few weeks out, begin an exercise routine that addresses four main areas: cardio (for example, an aerobic class or stationary biking), strength (exercises for the legs and lower back), balance (tai chi), and stretching (yoga). Consult with a personal trainer to outline a workout program.
Keep to your sleep schedule
On arrival, try to go to bed around your usual time. Be aware you may have trouble sleeping the first night. A study published online April 21, 2016, by Current Biology found that when you sleep in a new place for the first time, one hemisphere of your brain stays awake on “guard duty” in case you need to wake up fast. The effect tends to last only one night.
Rest before fun
“As you get older, your body is more sensitive to jet lag, so resist the urge to dive into your fun time,” says Dr. Franco-Garcia. “Give yourself a day to adjust to the time difference and recover from the stress of travel.” Otherwise, you may be more susceptible to daytime sleepiness and a tired body and mind. And where is the fun in that?