Dr. Mehmet Oz made a surprise appearance aboard a Turkish Airlines flight bound for New York from Istanbul recently to tape a segment about a topic many of us know all too well: the vexing discomforts of long-haul flying.
The famed cardiothoracic surgeon and Columbia University professor whose syndicated talk show, The Dr. Oz Show, usually highlights weight-loss methods and ways to manage pain, had plenty of advice for passengers — many of them frequent flyers — about how to minimize discomforts and stay healthy and well during long-distance travel.
The Istanbul to New York flight logged in at 11 hours and arrived at JFK just short of 6 pm. Passengers aboard that flight were given a boatload of tips and recommendations – from drinking tart cherry juice for a spike in melatonin to familiarizing one’s self with seatmates in the event of, well, an event. All attention was given to making travel aboard lengthy flights smoother and easier.
Bag the Jetlag
For instance, in order to minimize jetlag, what is the single most important element to consider in preparation for a flight? Light. If you are traveling east, indulge it. If you are traveling west, shut it out.
“Traveling across time zones can be particularly taxing on the mind and body,” said Dr. Oz. “That’s because our circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that lets us know when it’s time to wake up and sleep, takes a few days to catch up. As soon as I board a flight, I change my watch to the destination time zone. I also try to adjust my body to the new time zone straight away, by staying up until the normal bedtime of my destination instead of taking a nap. And if you can’t sleep that first night, take an over the counter sleep aid to help get some rest. Natural sleep aids, such as melatonin and valerian, do the trick for some people.”
The fatigue management team at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston helps astronauts — who, for training purposes, must fly frequently among international space agencies in Russia, Japan and Germany — overcome jet lag two to three times faster than other travelers. Among their recommendations for the long-distance travelers:
First, understand that the direction you are traveling. Know that it has only been for about 100 years that people have been capable of jumping time zones with speed. Begin by determining whether you are traveling east or west. Most people have an internal body clock that makes it harder for them to travel east.
Second, schedule your exposure to light and be aware of when to avoid it. Usually, it takes a full day to shift one time zone internally. To do this faster, you will have to regulate your exposure to light — both natural and artificial — and darkness.
Here are the general guidelines for light exposure on long-hauls: if you are traveling east, you must expose yourself to light early, advancing your body clock so that it will be in sync with the new time zone. Conversely, if traveling west, you should expose yourself to light at dusk and the early part of the evening, delaying your body clock so that it will be in sync with the new time zone.
For the television taping aboard Turkish Airlines flight 001 that left Istanbul at 1:35 pm Sunday, to arrive in New York that same day around 6pm local time (that would be 1am in Istanbul), Dr. Oz noted that traveling west, passengers would have to retard their internal clock toward NYC time. To do that, they would have to avoid light early in the day prior to boarding, try to take a nap at the end of the flight and see light in the evening after arriving. An obvious (and perhaps odd) way to accomplish this would be to wear sunglasses, even on the plane. There, depending on class of seating, they might have more chance of being mistaken for a rock star than designated an odd duck.
Don’t Fly Dry
“Did you know the air in here is about 66 percent drier than the air at sea level?” Dr. Oz discussed this question with passengers in the Business Class cabin as he walked through the aisles.
He went on to explain to those nearby that most planes fly at 35,000 feet where the air is thinner and easier to navigate, but cabins are pressurized to resemble an altitude of roughly 7,000 feet. At that air pressure lower blood oxygen levels cause fatigue and brain fog as well as headaches and dizziness. Gas expands in the body with these environmental changes to swell intestines and cause bloating. Avoid junk foods, he says, eat slowly, and skip the sodas as they make bloating worse.
The best flight diet, indeed best long-haul life diet, is the Mediterranean diet and Dr. Oz suggested passengers try dining on such foods as nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil with whole grain bread, legumes and beans (especially lentils and chickpeas used to make hummus), fish dishes for entrees, fresh fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens like spinach and kale, and non-starchy veggies like eggplant, cauliflower, artichokes, tomatoes and fennel), enjoy a glass of red wine with the meal, and finish it all off with herbal or mint tea.
To keep adequately hydrated, the ideal frequency of water consumption is between one and two cups of water per hour. Lips are the best indication of good hydration. Toss the lip balm and check to make sure lips feel smooth and painless. If not, start the sipping process until urine is clear – and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which flush water from the body too quickly.
Middle Seat Remedy
Not surprisingly, Dr. Oz spent a few moments getting passengers to move around. While cardiac arrest is the worst thing that can happen in the air, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a silent menace that can be fatal at its most extreme. The condition usually affects the legs with painful swelling, but as a clot it can travel and block blood flow to the heart and lungs.
What to do? Drink water, wear loose clothing and move around … a lot. Stuck in the middle seat? “Stand up at your seat, grab your foot and stretch. Or, kneel on your seat facing the back of the plane and lean back or onto your heels,” says Dr. Oz. “Your neighbor might look at you like you’re crazy, but when he or she gets a leg cramp later on in the trip, you’ll be having the last laugh.”
Be Here Now
And while sitting in that middle seat, shut your eyes and breathe. Meditation can be a Lifesaver in stressful times and a tripsaver during stressful travel times. Listening to special programs or meditation sounds through the in-flight entertainment system, bringing along meditation programs in a Smartphone or iPod, and administering self-massage techniques at acupressure points (scalp, temples, above eyes, among others) can bring on a variety of healthful results.
Meditation has remarkable impact on stress, depression and insomnia, Dr. Oz said, and also helps to calm blood pressure, reduce skin ailments, boost immune function, alleviate pain, and augment memory (as well as brain volume).
Sticking with the theme of relaxation, listening to music is a great way to relax the brain. Listening to the right music can help to shift consciousness and change the brain chemical activity, he added.
To promote good health and smart flying, Turkish Airlines is collaborating with Dr. Oz on the creation of a “#FlyGoodFeelGood” program that will promote healthy flying habits to all passengers flying on Turkish Airline routes serving some 300 destinations worldwide. The project features short videos with expert advice presented on the Turkish Airlines official website, social media accounts and in-flight entertainment systems.