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Holiday travel: Healthy tips from the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association (AHA) is providing advice for individuals with conditions like heart disease or stroke who are planning to travel during the holidays. The agency says that with a little pre-travel prep, you can turn travel woes from “oh no” to “let’s go!”

Dr. Gladys Velarde, a national volunteer with the AHA and a professor at the University of Florida in Jacksonville, emphasized the importance of pre-travel preparation for those with chronic health conditions. 

Planning and preparation 

“As we look forward to the holidays, many people will be traveling to spend treasured time with family and friends, or maybe just to enjoy some relaxation on the beach or ski slopes. For some that just means throwing a few essentials into a backpack and hitting the roads or airways,” said Dr. Velarde.

“It’s not always that simple for people who have chronic health conditions that require multiple medications or special medical equipment. There are also considerations for how to maintain your health and not put yourself at increased risk.”

Dr. Velarde said that doesn’t mean travel is off limits if you have a chronic health condition: a little planning and preparation can take the stress out of travel and prepare you for your next adventure.

Key recommendations 

Consult your doctor 

It’s important to discuss travel plans with your doctor, considering any health-related restrictions or precautions. Carrying medical records and emergency contact information is also advised.

Manage medications

Ensure medications are properly labeled and sufficient for the trip. Include a list of all medications, dosages, and pharmacy details. Adjust medication schedules for different time zones and plan for refrigeration needs if necessary.

Medical devices and supplies

Advance planning is needed for transporting wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen devices, CPAP machines, and regular monitoring devices like blood pressure or glucose monitors.

Location-specific research

Understand how local climate and elevation might affect health. Familiarize yourself with emergency numbers, medical facilities, and pharmacies in the area.

Air travel tips

Request wheelchair assistance or courtesy carts at airports if needed. Be aware of special security screenings for pacemakers or ICDs. To reduce the risk of blood clots on long flights, wear compression socks and stay active in the cabin.

Emergency preparedness

Know the signs of a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately as EMS can start treatment right away.

Maintain health during travel

Stay hydrated, avoid overindulgence in food or drink, know your physical limits, and rest as needed. Stress management is also crucial in ensuring a healthy and enjoyable trip.

Do your research 

“Depending on where you’re traveling, you’ll also want to do some research and planning specific to the location,” said Dr. Velarde. “The local climate and elevation may impact how you feel – extreme heat or cold can affect circulation and put extra strain on your heart.” 

“In high altitudes there is less oxygen in the air, and that means less oxygen will be carried in your blood. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the local emergency numbers and the location of nearby medical facilities and pharmacies of the area where you’re visiting.”

AHA guidelines 

The AHA provides an interactive map to locate hospitals across the U.S. that adhere to up-to-date treatment guidelines for heart and stroke care. These guidelines and tips aim to help individuals with heart conditions travel safely and enjoy their holidays without added health risks.

Planning ahead

Dr. Velarde said air travel is especially busy during the holiday season, and planning ahead can make the experience easier.

  • Walking through busy airports can take a toll. When booking your ticket request a wheelchair or courtesy cart to get to your terminal.
  • If you have a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) you may need to go through a special security screening at the airport.
  • Long plane rides, especially flights longer than 4 hours, may increase your risk for blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Consider wearing compression socks and get up and walk around the cabin when it’s safe to do so to help improve your circulation. You can also exercise your calf muscles and stretch your legs while you’re sitting with some simple heel and toe lifts.

Know the signs of a heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest and if you or someone you’re with experience any symptoms, call 9-1-1. EMS can often start treatment immediately and put a hospital on alert for the type of emergency care needed.

Pace yourself

“Maintaining your health while you’re traveling is also important. Stay well hydrated, don’t overindulge in food or drink, know your physical activity limits, pace yourself and rest as often as you need,” Velarde said. 

“Anticipating a big trip can be stressful for many – and stress is not good for your health. Every individual’s condition is unique, and you’ll want to tailor your travel plans to your specific needs. By taking a little time now to plan and prepare, you can enjoy your holiday or vacation can be just what the doctor ordered to help you unwind and recharge.”

Learn more about healthy traveling at


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