Think catching a cold is the only thing you have to worry about when traveling by plane? Think again! Airports and planes can have a horrible impact on your health, some of which can affect you for the rest of your life.
From the scary truth about what jet lag can do to your body (page 5) to the potential health risks of airplane seats (page 11) to the one thing you need to consider before booking a window seat (page 15), we uncover the truth about airplane travel and it’s horrible impact on your health, ahead.
It’s no secret that stress can be detrimental to our health and traveling by plane only makes it worse. Whether you’re anxious about getting the airport on time, getting passed security, or trying to access WiFi to send a work email inflight, airplane travel provides a lot of stress enhancing factors.
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2. Unhealthy habits
Whether it’s airport food, lack of activity, or indulgence in unhealthy offerings like alcohol or coffee, traveling can be a great excuse to give into unhealthy habits. That said, if you travel often, these things can have a long term effect on your health.
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3. Threats to the immune system
Between the recycled air on planes, exposure to germs, running from gate to gate and overall tiredness of traveling, airplane travel can threaten the immune system.
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4. Jet lag
Lack of sleep can have a major effect on your health and jet lag doesn’t help. This can be especially true for frequent travelers who find themselves in new time zones multiple times a month.
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5. Frequent flyers age faster
Speaking of jet lag, extreme jet lag caused by frequent travel can have major repercussions on our health. And, according to Fast Company, chronic jet lag can cause memory impairment, as well as a disruption of gene expression that affects aging and the immune system. On top of that, it can also increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
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Radiation is all around us, but it’s a lot worse 35,000 feet up. In fact, experts suggest that the radiation at high altitude is hundreds of times higher than on the ground. On top of that, some suggest the amount of radiation flight crews experience is more than the amount that nuclear power workers experience.
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7. DNA damage
Radiation can affect a whole host of things, including your tissues and DNA. Cosmic radiation — the kind you experience on a plane — can even cause damage to your DNA and, according to Vane, has connections to cancer and reproductive problems.
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8. Extreme dehydration
Another thing to consider? Your hydration levels. Thanks to the pressurized cabin, dehydration can easily occur. To avoid this, avoid ordering alcohol in airports and on the plane (as it can accelerate dehydration) and be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after a flight.
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9. The germ factor
To state the obvious: Airports and planes are covered in germs, which can lead to a variety of illnesses and even disease. From the overhead compartment to the seat belt buckle to the tray table, germs are pretty much unavoidable on planes.
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10. Circulation problems
Another potential health threat when traveling? Circulation problems. According to Vane, sitting for too long can cause blood to pool in your legs and slow down circulation. Poor circulation can lead to a number of problems like disrupting the body’s oxygen flow or worse, clots.
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11. Hormone disruptors
Airports and planes are surrounded by hormone disruptors. Even the plane seats, which are upholstered in flame-resistant fabric (aka, hormone-disrupting fabric), can cause harm to the body.
Hormone disruptors are responsible for a variety of health problems, including damage to the thyroid.
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12. Cleaning products
No one wants to get sick from germ exposure, but the cleaning products used to kill said germs might not be any better. Chemical-ridden products — such as the ones used to clean airports and planes — are chock full of endocrine disrupting chemicals that can have a long-term effect on your health.
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13. Hearing loss
Believe it or not, traveling by plane can result in hearing loss, as the sound of the engine can be between 75 to 100 decibels (depending on where you sit). According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the safety limit is 88 decibels for four hours and 85 decibels for eight.
To combat this side effect, consider sitting closer to the front of the aircraft. Seats in the back can reach up to 100 decibels and the NIOSH says exposure to that level for more than 15 minutes per day can risk permanent hearing loss.
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It should come of no surprise that airplane travel can have a major effect on passengers’ mental health — especially if they are prone to travel anxiety. From panic attacks to high blood pressure, the anxiety-inducing effects of plane travel can have a major impact on your overall health.
Next: Think twice before booking a window seat.
15. Skin damage
Traveling by air requires being closer to the sun, and being closer to the sun means a higher risk of skin damage. If you prefer a window seat, be sure to apply sunscreen to your complexion and other exposed areas, just like you would if you were laying out by the pool.
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