The other day radio personality Howard Stern attributed much of the youth and longevity in his family to the lack of travel. The “shock jock” known for more outrageous statements claimed that radiation, stress, and germs among other things caused frequent travelers to grow older.

I became very interested in the concept, since I’ve always held the belief that travel brings youth and vigor by stimulating the mind. I decided to put some of Howard Stern’s claims to the test to settle the argument one way or another.

Radiation While In Flight

Earth’s atmosphere protects us from solar, stellar, and magnetic radiation from the cosmos and is less dense the further we get from the surface. The logic goes that the higher up we are, the more radiation we are exposed to, damaging our cells and ultimately aging our bodies. A study [pdf] by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on pregnant women found that while flying does expose us to more radiation than at sea level, an average high-dose flight only exposes a human body to 15% of the maximum dosage for a 24 hour period.

  • The study did find however that the levels of radiation increase to potentially dangerous levels during some solar-energetic particle events. Travelers, especially pregnant women should monitor the Space Weather Prediction Alerts website.

Altitude Stress On The Body

Flying at high altitudes results in less cabin oxygen and pressure which does increase oxidative stress in the human body, the Journal of Nature found. The effects were measured on athletes training at moderate altitudes of 3,000 feet for 2 weeks. Although there was a measurable increase in free radicals, the test subjects who were given antioxidants were less effected.

  • Pilots, flight attendants, and others who work for extend periods in the air may be adversely affected by increased oxidation.
  • Business travelers and other who fly frequently should supplement their diet with fruits and vegetables.
  • All travelers should consider bringing fruits as snacks to increase their antioxidant consumption during flight.
  • The participants in the study were given supplements and vitamins A, B, C, E and Z among others. A multivitamin or two during flight mealtimes will given you a similar combination given to the study subjects.
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Blood Clots

Researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that those who took flights of 4 hours or more were more than 3 times likely to develop deep vein thrombosis (D.V.T.). There are several ways to counteract the effects of D.V.T.

  • Walk up and down the aisles at least once every 2 hours during a flight. Also walk around at the airport during any layovers and skip the airport shuttles if possible and walk to your gate.
  • Drink wine. It has been shown to interfere with the formation of blood clots on many levels.
  • Wear tight socks or shoes to increase blood circulation to and from your legs.

Germs

The chances of getting sick while flying increase due to being confined in close quarters with other people, not because of circulated air. The standard precautions against germs and illness apply.

Conclusion

Anytime you’re cramped in a small space for hours with lots of other people you’re putting stress on your body. Traveling does seem to increase the radiation, blood clots, and germs for flyers especially, however in limited doses. Taking the above mention precautions should be enough to protect yourself from the occasional 8-10 hour flight and give your body enough time to recover for your next flight.

It’s important to reduce any external stresses you will certainly encounter – flight delays, rude people in a rush, and airline fees can all get us fuming. Considering the additional amount of pressure on our bodies during a flight its best to entertain yourself and enjoy the ride.

A relaxing vacation, seeing old friends, and experiencing new cultures (the process of learning) all promote good health. In unquantifiable amounts traveling may be the best medicine.

[photo by: * hiro008]