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In addition to all the ordinary headaches caused by travel these days - especially by air - those with chronic conditions or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle are challenged on an even greater level.
When I was planning a recent vacation, I decided to pay special attention to some of these challenges so that I could write about them here. I began my journey flying from New York to Dallas for a family affair. The flight to Dallas was over the 3.5-hour boundary on which this particular airline offers more than just snacks for sale (Remember when we dreaded airline food? Now we get to pay extra for it!). I was flying at lunchtime, so I took advantage of a relatively healthy, if not inspiring, selection. Check the box for staying healthy in flight.
It helps to know that I am Jewish, and that half my family is from the South. These two factors conspire to make food - and lots of it - an important component of any family gathering. My cousins in Texas did not disappoint, with four meals within a 38-hour window - not to mention the welcome care package and hospitality suite at the hotel. While there were some healthier options, a combination of self-control and the elliptical machine in the hotel's fitness center helped me get through those few days.
Next stop was a gathering in Reno that started three days later. Having never been through west Texas, and already familiar with the natural beauty of traveling through New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, I decided to cover the 1,700 miles from Dallas to Reno by car rather than fly. This would provide me with an opportunity I don't often get in New York - no traffic, a scenic route, and the opportunity to catch up on episodes of the Tobolowsky Files. It would also provide some insight into those who travel long distances by car or truck more often than I do. How easy or difficult is it to stay healthy on the road?
My friend Andre used to drive 18-wheelers for a living. Andre does not look like most truckers. He is quite lean, and while genetics play some role in that, I always wondered how he stayed so fit while crisscrossing the country, seated most of the time. If you know anything about truckers, you know that there are only certain places where they can stop to get meals, re-fuel and rest. Given the nature of their business, such stops are infrequent and must be planned. One of the secrets to Andre's health was that he planned his routes and stops around the areas that had a Subway sandwich shop. While not endorsing them per se, it is clear that choosing Subway provides the opportunity to eat healthier than at many other roadside establishments. That opportunity, however, relies on selecting lean meats with lots of veggies and going easy on the sauce, versus choosing the meatball parm sub.
As I drove, I thought of mobile health from two perspectives. First, how easy or difficult would it be to stay healthy while on the road, given that I had more options being in a car than Andre did in a truck. And second, what types of mobile technology would be of help in staying healthy while traveling.
The first part was sadly disappointing. At every place I stopped, whether it was for gas, food or simply a bio break, I observed what was available to eat. I think that living in New York City - where healthy food options abound - has colored my view of the world, as I was astounded at the very low ratio of healthy to unhealthy options. My reaction was in stark contrast to that which I would have had in my 20s, road-tripping across the country. In those days, I would have thought I had found Mecca. Chili dogs, fresh doughnuts AND 54 types of jerky? Yowza! In the present day, though, I was very happy that I had stocked up on some healthy snacks and bottled water.
At this point, I should fess up. I have a favorite restaurant in Holbrook, Ariz., that makes the best Navajo Taco with green chiles. It is something that you cannot find outside of that part of the country, and I don't even want to think about the calorie and fat count. I stopped there for lunch. I did not eat for the rest of the day.
Next, I turned my attention to technology. My rental car was full of cool toys. A touch screen on the dash controlled audio (including a full-iPod interface), advanced Bluetooth, and a trip computer. The car rental agency-installed GPS - also touch screen - accepted wireless downloads of pre-planned itineraries, could give you the latest weather at your current location, and automatically downloaded visitor guides as I drove through certain cities. There was a built-in Yellow Pages function, though no category for healthy food options or fitness centers. With the included concierge service, I could have called and asked them to find a specific point of interest and send the location information wirelessly to the GPS. I suppose I could have asked them to send me the location of the nearest Whole Foods.
With all this on-board technology, why can't we integrate mobile health tools? Given how much time so many people spend in their cars - and let's not forget those truckers - we're missing a golden opportunity. The cardio machines I use at the gym have heart rate sensors in the handles, so why can't we embed these into a steering wheel? Aside from the inherent safety of keeping both hands on the wheel, we could provide all sorts of biofeedback to the driver. How do they respond to traveling at various speeds? As a New Yorker, I know my pulse would quicken anytime I get to go even 55 MPH. What's our physical response to traffic jams? Such feedback - especially combined with traffic sensors and weather updates - could then trigger a pre-determined response. Open road, sunny skies and a speed limit of 75 MPH? The audio system cranks up some AC/DC. Stalled traffic moving at 10 MPH through the rain? It pipes in Norah Jones and triggers the aromatherapy mister.
Let's remember too, that safety is a part of staying healthy. Where are the heads-up displays we were promised so long ago to help us keep our eyes on the road? And I am still perplexed by people who choose not to wear seatbelts. Without delving into issues of personal choice, how about a more annoying or persistent alarm when not buckled up? I'll bet if that alarm were connected wirelessly to your auto or health insurance company, there would be more incentive to use restraints. What we really need is a way to enforce rules against texting and use of handheld devices while in motion. I'm thinking something that generates an electric shock if you touch it while driving.
There is literature on the subject that suggests that if you are tired while driving, listening to music you don't like or talk radio spouting opinions with which you disagree can help keep you awake. I suppose it's the annoyance factor. So why don't we have a channel that berates you about unhealthy habits? Keeps you awake AND it may resonate once you're out of the car.
One of my travel heroes is my friend Peg. Peg is a stroke survivor, a cancer survivor and a diabetic. In addition to her scooter (she is impaired from the stroke), she travels with all sorts of gear (e.g. CPAP machine, braces, glucometer) and a large selection of meds. Peg lives in an area served by a small airport and must often make more than one connection to get to her destination. Why is she a travel hero? Because while the rest of us are complaining about airport food and having to take off our shoes at the security checkpoint, Peg - who usually travels by herself, including driving herself to the airport - doesn't complain a lick. She endures extensive screening and is the last one off a plane, yet she does all this with a smile and winning attitude. Despite the health challenges she has been dealt, she has an indomitable spirit. She is diligent about her health routines, yet even Peg could use some mobile health help. I met up with Peg on my trip and since she was two time zones away from home - and despite her spirit and diligence - the timer on her insulin pump was not adjusted, and her med admin schedule also needed to be updated. Peg is someone who could benefit from the tools identified in a recent New York Times article that explored some of the mobile health options oriented towards those with medical conditions who travel.
So after covering 1,700 miles in three days, with all that time in the car to ponder and think about these things, what great idea did I come up with? What epiphany did I have that will translate to gobs of cash, thus permitting early retirement?
Mini-gyms at highway rest areas.
For a small fee, you can hop on the treadmill and get some exercise which, in turn, will help you stay more alert and work off the Big Mac you consumed a few miles back. Co-locate this with pop-up Weight Watchers meetings, glucose monitoring stations equipped with PHR upload capabilities and other mobile health tools, and we'll drive ourselves to better health. Get it? "Drive" ourselves . . . Gee, I crack myself up.
The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.
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