And that can lead to gut issues. “When you sit for a long period of time or you're immobile, your intestinal motility decreases, which means the gas that's in your bowels is kept in your bowels and you don't pass it,” says board-certified gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, MD, FACP, DABIM. Plus, when you’re not able to get up and poop or fart, you're likely to experience bloating and additional discomfort.
- Niket Sonpal, MD, New York-based internist and gastroenterologist
“The second reason you are super gassy on planes especially is physics—Boyle's law, to be exact,” says Dr. Sonpal. When ascending on an airplane, pressure that’s placed on the bowels increases. “Boyle's law dictates that if you observe a vessel filled with gas—such as a balloon or the human’s gut—when within a constant temperature, you’ll see that as the pressure around it decreases, the balloon expands, and vice versa,” he says.
That’s why your may gut expand and fill with gas when you’re traveling and mid-flight. It also explains why you’re more prone to farting and abdominal cramping during and after the flight as the body adjusts, releasing that pent-up gas at last.
The good news is that you can benefit your gut health when traveling with a few simple tips. Here are a couple to keep in mind the next time you’re on the road, courtesy of Dr. Sonpal.
How to maintain gut health when traveling
Drink lots of water
Hydration is especially important when you're traveling because it can reduce gas, bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain. “I tell patients to drink a bottle before the flight, during it, and even after the flight,” says Dr. Sonpal. Keep your reusable water bottle handy and drink water (or some hydrating fluid with electrolytes) every hour or so, and regularly throughout the day. Set a goal of starting this practice a day before traveling and maintaining it the day after you’ve reached your destination spot.
Keep a regular sleep pattern
Sleeping without a normal pattern in place can wreak havoc on the gut and digestive system. “The GI system likes predictability, so getting a good night's sleep allows the colon to go to work and keep you regular,” he says. “If you don't sleep, it doesn't work right and you get constipated and bloated,” Dr. Sonpal explains.
This can be hard when traveling to destinations that are international, since there’s the aspect of time difference and an adjustment. However, it’s better to adjust to your destination’s pace if you can, and to maintain a typical sleeping pattern and schedule that aligns with day and night.
Walk around and move
Walking as much as possible, or maintaining some level of regular activity and movement, can help prevent constipation and excess, pent-up gas. “If you walk around, you contract the muscles of your gut, whereby things in the bowels, like gas, will be released the way they should and as you move,” says Dr. Sonpal. Plus, any form of movement is also good for increasing blood flow and circulation, which lowers the risk of developing blood clots or swelling in the legs and ankles. This is particularly important during a flight, due to the need to sit for long increments of time, the dehydrating effects of flying, and the higher altitudes.
Another bonus of getting up to stretch your legs? You can discreetly release some gas. “Walking on a plane, or walking around the airport beforehand, will let you dissipate gas, and perhaps ease any uneasiness you might feel about farting when sitting next to a stranger," Dr. Sonpal says. Moving around means you're less likely to be pinpointed as a farter—or better yet, take a bathroom break and let it all out freely.
The same goes for long car rides as a way of traveling, too. Stop at a local coffee shop or browse a new area en route to your destination, or even just schedule a few rest stop breaks to get some steps in.
Eat enough fiber
Eating fiber is super important for a healthy gut and digestive well-being, and you can get a nice variety with fruits and vegetables, grains, probiotics and prebiotics, beans, and legumes.
“Fiber, all day everyday, is key,” says Dr. Sonpal. “You should think of fiber as weight lifting for the colon, whereby if you miss a session, your colon won’t feel so good,” he says. Think about how your body reacts to missed weight training workouts, and how your arms and leg muscles may feel weaker as missed time elapses, too.
“The same thing goes for travel and fiber, and if you miss a few days or are not mindful of your fiber intake, you end up getting constipated and then gassy,” Dr. Sonpal says. A good tip: get in greens prior to traveling, since they’re rich in fiber.
“I always recommend a salad before the flight,” says Dr. Sonpal. Include other forms of fiber from veggies that are easy-to-digest, as well as healthy, lean protein or fatty fish, as toppers, and integrate heart-healthy fat into the dressing.
An avocado-based or olive-oil based dressing for the salad is a good idea here, as the inflammation-taming, healthy fats are good for your body, and with avocado, you’re getting a bit of additional protein and fiber, too. It's a delicious thing to eat on the go—and it'll keep your GI system humming along, too.
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