Take these 7 healthy habits on your summer road trip

By Michael Precker, American Heart Association News

Brenda Sangi Arruda/E+ via Getty Images
(Brenda Sangi Arruda/E+ via Getty Images)

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You've spent the past couple of years staying fit and healthy despite the unusual circumstances of mostly staying home.

Now you're packing the car for a well-deserved summer road trip, fraught with fast food, convenience stores and hours of sitting around with unhealthy snacks within arm's reach.

Can you keep up the good work? You can, experts say – if you plan.

"The idea is to keep to one's routine and healthy habits as much as possible on the road, just as you do at home," said Dr. Ian Neeland, a preventive cardiologist and associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Preventive cardiologist Dr. Puja Mehta concurs.

"Everything is in the planning," said Mehta, associate professor in the Emory Women's Heart Center at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "It can be a lot of fun and relieve a lot of stress along the way."

So while you're checking your budget and consulting maps and travel guides, here are some health-related factors to consider.

Stay hydrated, but wisely. "Travel with water bottles and a cooler" rather than stopping for sodas, Mehta said.

Build in breaks. When you're sitting in the car for hours at a time, blood doesn't pump as well throughout the body, Neeland said. "It's a good idea to stop every two or three hours, just to get up and stretch and walk around and get the blood flowing."

That's especially true, he said, for people at risk for blood clots, including those who smoke, are pregnant, take birth control pills, or have conditions such as obesity, atrial fibrillation or diabetes. Clots can travel to the brain, heart and elsewhere, causing a stroke, heart attack or other damage.

That same advice holds for people with orthopedic problems, Mehta said. "If you're sitting for hours, it's not good for your back," she said. "And if you know you have back pain, bring the back support you need."

The sun doesn't shine just at the beach. "It's blasting through the car window," Mehta said. "Don't forget sunscreen and sunglasses while you're driving."

"You can get sunburned on your arms and face," Neeland said. "It's also important to protect your eyes from too much UV exposure."

Where are your meds? Just remembering to pack them isn't enough. A trip disrupts daily schedules, so "don't forget to take them at the right times," Neeland said.

And don't stash them in the trunk, Mehta advised. "A lot of medications are temperature-sensitive," she said. "If you leave them in a hot car, that's probably not a good idea. They can lose their effectiveness."

Keeping them in the passenger compartment keeps them cool – and accessible.

"People have told me, 'I had the pills, but they were in the suitcase,'" Mehta said. "If you have angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart), you might need nitroglycerin. But it doesn't do you any good if you don't have access to it."

Medical conditions don't stay home. "If you do develop symptoms or issues, it's important not to say, 'I'll wait till we get to wherever we're going to check it out,'" Neeland said. "If it's serious, it's important to get it checked out right away. Pull over, call for help or find the nearest emergency room."

Health and safety go together. Don't be sleepy while on the road. Change drivers and pull over at night, Neeland said.

Preserve a good night's sleep by getting at least seven hours a night. Kids need more depending on their age.

Search your cellphone map for a grocery store. Those fast-food emporiums and gas station convenience stores may be right at the highway exit, but they're probably loaded with unhealthy temptations.

"There's lot of chips and cookies and candy," Neeland said. "It's pretty difficult to find fresh fruit or vegetables at a convenience store."

Just as at home, Mehta said, grocery stores balance those temptations with healthy options: fruits, vegetables, nuts and something for everyone.

"When you're traveling with a family, everybody has a different choice," she said. "At a grocery store, at least you can try to pick the healthier choices."

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