Travel gets us out of our routines. A trip to a new or far away place can surely be exciting, but it can also stress our bodies, including our urinary system.
While we travel, we tend to drink less water than normal. We may move more and sweat more. We may splurge more with yummy treats, or eat more “unique” foods, which may not have as much fiber. We may not sleep as well or as routinely, mostly when faced with a time change. And we may also get out of our normal physical activity or workout routines. All these changes can lead to urologic problems for both children and adults. The most common problems people face when on the road can be constipation, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney stones. Travel can also make some of the urinary problems you have worse or harder to handle, such as with overactive bladder and urinary incontinence.
Five Ways to be Ready for Travel
Dr. Suzette Sutherland, urologist/urogynecologist from the UW Medicine Pelvic Health Center, knows how to take the stress out of travel. “There are a lot of things we can do to stay healthy when we travel. We just have to be prepared,” she explains. Part of that is staying aware of what we eat, drink and how we get routine workouts and sleep. The other part is being sure to pack enough medications or other supplies we may need. These things shouldn’t just come with us, they should stay with us – in our carry-on bags – in case air travel gets delayed.
There are five tips to help you stay healthy during times of travel. These tips not only help keep our bodies healthy and feeling good overall, but also help prevent avoidable urologic problems like UTIs, incontinence, kidney stones (if you’re prone to them), or other problems that affect one’s urologic system, like constipation.
#1 - STAY HYDRATED
“Adults need about two liters of fluid per day, with at least half of that being water. The other half can be many things, but limiting caffeine and alcohol is important,” Dr. Sutherland says. If there is no reliable access to water that is clean and safe to drink, be ready to find bottled water and keep it with you at all times.
Dr. Sutherland explains that we know if we’re well hydrated “when our urine is a light-yellow color.”If it’s so pale it looks like water, we may be drinking too much. If it’s amber, golden brownish or dark yellow, then it’s too concentrated and we’re relatively dehydrating our body. On a normal day, we should expect to pass urine about five times if we are drinking a normal amount: once in the morning, once before bed and a few times in between.
Staying hydrated prevents constipation, UTIs and kidney stones. It also helps keep many other bodily functions working well too. It’s never a good plan to limit your fluid intake by a large amount, even if you fear being away from a bathroom for a long time.
#2 - EAT WELL
While we travel, we may not have access to very healthy meals. It’s easy to forget to eat fresh fruits and veggies. This can be hard if we travel to areas where the bacteria in the water can make us sick. In these places, eat only cooked foods, drink only bottled water (even when you brush your teeth) and if you need more fiber – bring fiber pills. When going to high-risk places where the water isn’t safe to drink, it helps to bring an emergency prescription for Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat traveler’s diarrhea, or “Montezuma’s Revenge”.
A person who is prone to UTIs is more likely to get a UTI with poor hydration and constipation. Studies note more frequent sexual activity between couples when they are more relaxed during time off, which can also raise the risk of UTIs in some. But with high fiber food and proper hydration to prevent constipation, UTI risks will be low. For a healthy urologic system, Dr. Sutherland stresses “hydration and a healthy diet is always the best answer.”
#3 - ENJOY SLEEP
“Try to live in the time zone where you are. If you travel to a place with a huge time change, try to assume life in the new time zone that first day. You can nap, but plan to catch up on sleep that night,” advises Dr. Sutherland.
For kids, we know how vital daily routines can be, including healthy sleeping! Incontinence and bed-wetting in kids can be brought on by stress, and sleeplessness is a major cause of stress. When you can plan a good sleep routine and normalcy into your trip, you can have more fun, and avoid getting your body “out of whack”.
#4 - ALWAYS WORKOUT
Routine workouts are key. This involves walking or light aerobic workouts, as well as high-impact workouts. Movement keeps us regular. “Preventing constipation is not only about getting fluids and fiber, it is also about regular aerobic exercise,” says Dr. Sutherland. She further explains, “Exercise keeps you mentally healthy too, and helps you to better manage the stress of travel, which in turn keeps us happier overall.”
#5 - PACK SUPPLIES
The key to success with managing urologic health issues while you travel is to have what you need on hand. This includes extra medications, a copy of your prescriptions (in case you need to fill one while you’re away), diapers (for kids or adults) or other such supplies. If you’re off to hike in a remote place for a full day, bring toilet paper and maybe a little shovel for the woods. Be prepared! It helps to say to yourself, “If I were to get stuck, what would I really need?”
With these five key tips your body will have fewer travel strains and more travel comforts. As a final thought, Dr. Sutherland says, “Vacations are all about indulging and trying new things. But amongst all the ‘splurging’, if you find time for hydration, healthy meals, exercise, sleep and preparation - you won’t regret it!”
Listen to our Urology Care Podcast: Get Ready for Summer with Dr. Suzette Sutherland to learn more about how you can take control of your urinary system this summer!
Read the latest issue of Urology Health extra, the Urology Care Foundations patient-focused magazine.
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