Drivers:  Tips on Staying Healthy During a Road Trip

For many of us, there’s something incredibly alluring about packing up the car and hitting the road. In a recent blog post titled “Traveling abroad this summer? Let’s talk travel medicine,” Rapid Med shared advice on ensuring that you and your family members are well-prepared on the healthcare front when planning a trip abroad. Now we’d like to share some tips for staying healthy when you travel a little closer to home so that you feel great when you arrive at your destination. The Rapid Med team has  food and beverage suggestions, health tips, and safety tips primarily for the driver, but for the passenger(s) as well.

First, buckle up

We all know this by now but it’s worth stating anyway:  Seatbelts save lives. Every state except New Hampshire has enacted a primary and/or secondary seat belt law for all adults and passengers under 18 in a vehicle. And all 50 states, including New Hampshire, have child safety seat laws. According to data collected in 2014 by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly half (49%) of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.

And, of course . . .

Never drive impaired due to alcohol or drowsiness. Also, pull off the road if there’s something going on in the vehicle that’s very distracting or if you have to use your phone for any reason. As with wearing seatbelts, the vast majority of us know what we should and should not be doing when we’re behind the wheel but unfortunately the statistics show there are drivers out there who believe they’re the exception. Therefore, these reminders bear repeating.

Here are some additional stats taken from the 2014 NHTSA report:

  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014.
  • Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6% of all crash fatalities; at least 846 people died in these crashes in 2014.
  • Distracted driving accounted for 10% of all crash fatalities, killing 3,179 people in 2014.

No, a road trip is not an excuse to eat junk food from Point A to Point B

Remember, you want to arrive at your destination feeling good and ready to roll. A little fun with your food choices is fine, but don’t overdo the sugar, salt, caffeine, carbs, and calories, which can lead to spikes in energy followed by fatigue, gas and bloating, and constipation. Packing a bag and cooler with the following foods will make a great alternative to food from a gas station vending machine or fast-food restaurant. Or pick up these foods at convenience and grocery stores along the way.

  • Washed fruits and veggies, pre-cut for easy snacking (Individual-sized cups of hummus for dipping add protein to this healthy snack. Protein, an important macronutrient for our body to function well, helps you feel full and alert.)
  • Yogurt (Don’t forget spoons, and check the grams of sugar on the label. Margaret Wertheim, MS, RDN, a Madison, Wisconsin-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, has written an interesting article on sugar in popular brands of yogurt that may help you choose the brand that’s right for you and your family.)
  • Individual portions of cereal to munch on or stir into yogurt (Choose a high-fiber, low-sugar brand.)
  • Trail mix that’s heavy on nuts and dried fruits, low on added candies
  • Plain or lightly salted nuts (As with trail mix, watch portion size due to the calorie count.)
  • Cheese sticks or cubes (Like hummus, yogurt, and nuts, cheese is a good source of protein.)

What about beverages? For a healthy alternative to a ’big gulp’ soda to sip as you cruise the miles, you can’t beat plain water. It hydrates, improves kidney function, helps to maintain normal bowel movements, regulates body temperature, and more.

Another good choice is 100% vegetable juice, but be sure to check the label for the sodium content. You may want to look for a low-sodium version.

Coconut water is “an all-natural way to hydrate, reduce sodium, and add potassium to diets,” according to WebMD. Plain, unsweetened coconut water is a refreshing, slightly sweet alternative to soda that some will find more interesting than plain water.

You may think that 100 % fruit juice is a good alternative to soda, but even a small serving is quite high in fructose, a form of sugar. “But it’s from fruit so what’s the problem?” you ask. Fructose, no matter the source, is processed in the liver and converted to a form of fat along with uric acid and free radicals, none of which are good. But the fructose in whole fruit isn’t a problem because the fiber reduces the absorption of the fructose in the body. The most recent recommendation by many medical researchers and nutritionists, while acknowledging the slight nutritional benefits of fruit juice, is to limit fruit juice intake to 4 ounces per day. That’s not exactly a thirst-quenching, hydrating option for a road trip.

The healthcare professionals at Rapid Med also recommend that you carefully check the nutrition label on sports drinks and vitamin water. Both can contain a lot of sugar. There are some acceptable choices, however, such as VitaminWater Zero, which is calorie-free and sweetened with Truvia® and a negligible amount of fructose.

Good posture = Staying comfortable

Sitting for hours on end during a road trip can cause muscle stiffness and pain, especially for the driver who has limited mobility behind the wheel. Here are a few tips for the best position and posture for the driver:

  • Be sure you’re sitting up straight enough and close enough to the wheel so that you’re not slouching, having to lift your head off the headrest to see, or reaching too far for the wheel, pedals, and controls.
  • Adjust your seat so that your knees are at the same level or higher than your hips. Your knees should bend but you don’t want to be too close to the wheel so that your movements are impeded.
  • Your lumbar area (curve of the lower back) should be supported by the seat or with a pillow or rolled-up towel.
  • Resting both feet on the floor is easier on the back and hips, so use the cruise control on long stretches of your trip.

Pull off the road, get out of the car and stretch on a regular basis. This benefits not only the driver but the passengers as well. How frequently is subjective but Fodor’s Travel recommends every two or three hours.

It may sound counterintuitive, but you’re more likely to make better driving time—and to arrive safely—if you take frequent breaks when traveling long distances. Pull off the road, get out of your car, and stretch every two to three hours; you’ll actually increase your alertness and endurance. On the other hand, if you drive four or five hours without stopping, you’re more likely to become fatigued and unable to continue safely without stopping for a long break or even an overnight.    “Rest often during long road trips,” Fodor’s Editors, 11/18/10

Staying alert:  Drowsy driving can be deadly

Driving involves many reactions and decisions every second that you’re behind the wheel. Remember the statistic mentioned earlier? Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6% of all crash fatalities in 2014. The site has great tips for recognizing when you’re too drowsy to drive and how to best prepare yourself for a long road trip. This preparation is also important for your backup driver if you have one so that he or she is ready to slip behind the wheel after perhaps only the first few hours.

The Foundation suggests not driving between midnight and 6am because this is a time (for most people) when your body is used to sleeping – it’s your body’s “biological rhythm.” Plan ahead and get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep the night before a trip. Don’t drink even a small amount of alcohol before driving because it may enhance drowsiness, but a little bit of caffeine isn’t a bad idea for alertness. And lastly, don’t be in a rush. It’s more important to arrive at your destination safely than on time.

DVT /PE – A serious concern for some

An equally pressing reason to take breaks and get out of the vehicle after sitting for long periods of time is to prevent deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, especially for travelers with certain risk factors.  DVT is a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body, most often in a leg. Aside from the discomfort, it’s a serious condition because the clot can loosen and travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism, or PE, which can be fatal. Risk factors include a family history of blood clots, a previous blood clot, older age, obesity, and a recent surgery or injury. DVT symptoms include swelling, redness, warmth, and pain in the affected area, usually a leg. Symptoms of a PE include unexplained shortness of breath, chest pain, cough which may produce blood, and lightheadedness. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical attention right away.

Rapid Med patients who are planning a road trip (or even a long plane or train ride) and who feel they may fall into the at-risk category for DVT/PE are encouraged to discuss preventative treatment with the Rapid Med healthcare professionals. 

The bottom line

With a little careful planning and preparation, the journey portion of your road trip can be just as much fun as the destination. Talk to the Rapid Med team about any health concerns you may have before you hit the road, and if your home is the destination for a car full of road warriors, remember that the healthcare professionals at Rapid Med Urgent Care in both Double Oak and The Colony are here for them too.

And one more thing:  Share this article with young drivers who are planning their first road trip – it’s not uncommon for young people to feel invincible behind the wheel. Thank you.

Dr. Gomez
Dr. John Gomez was born in Venezuela but spent most of his childhood in Texas, his father a Spaniard and mother American. After working a few years as a full time emergency physician in a few hospitals, Dr. Gomez noted and came to dislike the inefficiencies and near total lack of personalization required to practice the best medicine. He developed a perspective that medical care, even when an emergency, should be patient centered and streamlined and it was with this vision that he began Rapid-Med. Dr. Gomez maintains a special interest in ultrasound and sports medicine with emphasis on concussion management. He currently serves on the L.I.S.D. Concussion Oversight Team (COT) as physician advisor and enjoys his close relationship with the local athletic trainers and Flower Mound High School.
Get seen by our team today