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Healthy tips for senior travellers

You’ve earned your time in the sun and you’re ready to see the world, so staying as healthy as possible during your travels is essential. Find out about Cover-More's travel insurance for seniors. Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, a Geriatrician at The University of Sydney, shares her excellent and (sometimes surprising) travel tips for older travellers.

Food and drink while flying

In-flight alcohol

It’s vital to drink more water than you ordinarily would and minimise alcohol intake to stay hydrated on long flights. This becomes increasingly important with age, especially for those with underlying chronic conditions affecting the circulatory system, liver, or for those taking medication.

“Don’t drink more alcohol than you usually would on the ground – one to two drinks at the most in a 24-hour period, interspersing with glasses of water,” says Professor Fiatarone Singh. “If you don’t have as much muscle mass, which happens when you’re older, alcohol will stay in your bloodstream and go to your brain more quickly.”

In-flight meals

Reduced gut function is a consideration for seniors, especially with restricted movement on a plane. Travellers with reflux, digestion and constipation problems should be careful to eat small quantities as the body is likely to process food more slowly in-flight. “If you have reflux as an actual medical condition, avoid anything that contains caffeine, alcohol or peppermint as these foods increase the ability of acid to cause heartburn. Try to get up and walk after the meal to aid in digestion.”

The right kind of moves

In-flight exercises

Senior travellers should be conscious of an increased risk of blood clots, otherwise known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Staying hydrated and completing specialised exercises will reduce the risk of DVT and assist those who suffer from swelling.

  • While you’re sitting in your seat you can do activities to improve your circulation, such as moving your legs back and forth underneath you, or going up and down on your toes. This contracts your calf muscles and squeezes the lymphatics to send fluid from around your ankles back into your circulatory system. To make the exercise more intensive, cross your legs and use one leg to lift both (ensuring you uncross your legs when you’re finished).
  • Lower back pain can also be an issue on flights, especially for those who slouch when seated. Be conscious to sit more upright – lifting your feet off the floor or tucking your legs under your seat will automatically take your body back into good alignment. Try to do this for a few minutes at a time throughout the flight.  
  • Get up and walk around every hour when possible, which will get you out of that 90 degree angle that causes lower back pain. Again, go up and down on your toes, this time in a standing position.

seniors taking selfie

Staying safe on the ground as a senior

Be prepared

According to Professor Fiatarone Singh, one thing older travellers should always carry with them is a recent, printed report from their physician. “This can include your annual physical, a list of your medications and conditions, and hospital discharge papers – sometimes it’s hard to find these things at a moment’s notice. Overseas it’s almost impossible to get medical records quickly as laws exist to prevent emailing them.”

You should also have a big enough supply of your usual medications in your carry-on luggage, in case your return home is delayed and you spend more time somewhere. You don’t want to have to suddenly find another, unknown brand when overseas. Be very careful of generic brands in unregulated countries as the formulations of your usual drugs can differ.

Find out some of the existing medical conditions that Cover-More can provide protection for. 

Sampling your destination

Much like air travel, try not to overeat and keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, even if you don’t have a medical issue.

“It’s easy to overdo it on vacations but try not to let your good habits slip away. If you have any conditions related to nutrition like diabetes, keep to the same rules you have at home.”

If you’re not sure of water quality, drink from a sealed water bottle, be careful of ice and brushing your teeth, and don’t consume alcohol if you’re not sure how it’s made.

You may be interested in reading our Blog post " Best Destinations for Seniors"

Best foot forward

Professor Fiatarone Singh says people are generally more active on holiday, particularly through walking. Staying on top of foot health is vital so see a podiatrist before you leave and have good footwear. Correctly fitted orthotics can help avoid pressure ulcers, blisters and callouses.

Senior travellers need to be extra diligent to avoid cellulitis – a common bacterial infection – at all costs. “If you get a cut, things can spiral down quickly so don’t walk barefoot. People with diabetes are particularly at risk when they have neuropathy so they can’t feel a cut on their feet, combined with peripheral vascular disease which makes it incredibly difficult to heal from an injury.”

You or your travelling partner (whoever has the better eyes!) should inspect your feet every night to check for any damage; preventing an infection is key.

Having the heart for travel

For older travellers with heart disease who don’t typically have chest pains, you could suddenly have new symptoms from undertaking more activity than usual. If you feel anything that’s out of the ordinary, or if you have angina and notice a sudden change in pattern, seek medical help immediately. “Unstable angina is an emergency,” Professor Fiatarone Singh advises.

senior couple walking

Keeping strong

Strength training can be highly beneficial for seniors so if you regularly exercise, you don’t want to lose all that muscle you’ve built if you’re on holiday for a few weeks. If you’re checking into accommodation with no gym, you still have options – you just need to get creative.

“Lots of things can be done with body weight like using suitcases to do bicep curls or doing push ups off the end of the bed or bedside table – using simple body weight and simple means of resistance,” says Professor Fiatarone Singh.

“You can also do isometric contractions, for example if you sit under a desk and put your palm under the table or another immovable object and push up, that will give you a bicep contraction. You can do isometric contractions wherever you are, even on a plane; it’s free, it’s almost as good as a gym exercise to maintain muscle strength in the short term, and it’s very safe.”

Travellers shouldn’t try movements they wouldn’t normally do, especially those involving shoulders. Rotator cuff tears are a risk when putting a suitcase onto a shelf far above your head, or when pulling a heavy weight like luggage far behind you.

Happy travelling

Take into account the above advice to help make the most of your travels and enjoy your golden years, more seniors travel questions answered here. Find out more about Cover-More’s Seniors Travel Insurance or call us on 1300 72 88 22 to help find suitable coverage for you. 


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