Nothing says summertime like grabbing a few friends, loading up the car and hitting the open road. While road trips are a fun way to bond with friends and family and explore different sights and cities, they are also associated with unhealthful eating, sunburns and cramped legs. Before taking off on your summer drive, here are a few tips that I share with my patients to ensure the trip is fun, safe and healthful.
Bring healthy snacks
Fast-food drive-ins and gas-station markets are sometimes the only options while on the road, so it can be difficult to eat healthy and get enough nutritional value from food to stay energized during the trip. To save money and avoid unhealthful eating, I recommend planning ahead and bringing smart snacks along.
Fruit is one of the best on-the-go snack options out there. Berries are already naturally snack-sized and finger friendly, as are grapes. Prepare fruit by washing and slicing it as needed before you start your trip. Store it in lidded food containers inside an insulated cooler to help keep it cool and fresh.
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Other healthful items you can keep in your cooler include low-fat cheese, including string cheese snacks, single-serving cottage cheese containers and cubes of your favorite low-fat, medium-hard cheese such as Colby or cheddar — all of which are perfect car-friendly finger foods. Two string-cheese snacks or 1.5 ounces (4 grams) of cheese are just 100 calories and also contain calcium and other important vitamins and nutrients.
Pre-prepped veggies such as cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, broccoli florets, celery sticks and snap peas are other great items to add to your cooler. Add hummus or peanut butter as a dip, and you’ll also add good fats and protein to help keep your hunger low and energy level high. One cup of baby carrots (about 12) with 2 tablespoons of hummus for dipping, for example, is a good-for-you 100-calorie snack.
I also recommend skipping the chips. If you’re craving something salty and crunchy, put away the Ruffles and pop open a container of nuts. Nuts such as peanuts, pistachios, walnuts and almonds — or even seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower — are good combinations of healthy fats and protein.
Drinking enough water is critical in preventing dehydration, which can drain your energy and cause headaches and muscle cramps. For long trips in the car, I recommend bringing along a few reusable water bottles that can be filled at rest stops along the way.
Avoid sweetened and carbonated drinks such as soda and sweet coffee drinks, which are high in sugar and can lead to dehydration. If you’re looking for alternatives to water that are still healthful, try seltzer water, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices, low-calorie sports drinks or iced tea.
Stretch and take breaks
Long periods of time spent in the car can cause muscle cramps and make for an uncomfortable experience. To have a more enjoyable experience, start by making sure you are comfortable. That means wearing comfortable clothing such as loose, light garments and tennis shoes with sweat-resistant socks. It also means sitting with good posture and taking frequent breaks to stretch and realign your body, which will help to avoid pain in the neck and shoulders.
In addition to the neck and shoulders, the most common areas for discomfort are the legs and lower back. To avoid these aches and pains, be sure to make frequents stops so everyone can get out of the car, stretch and move around.
Get enough sleep
During the trip, it is important that everyone gets enough rest to prevent drowsy driving. Adults typically need seven or eight hours of sleep a day, while adolescents need nine or 10 hours. Some common warning signs of drowsy driving include yawning or blinking frequently, difficulty remembering the past few miles driven, missing your exit, drifting from your lane and hitting a rumble strip. If any of these symptoms occur, switch drivers or stop to take a break.
Arkadiy Tkachev, MD, practices family medicine at Pacific Medical Centers’ Renton clinic. He earned his medical degree from National Medical University in Kiev, Ukraine, and completed his residency at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Pacific Medical Centers is a private, not for profit, multi-specialty health care network of nine clinics in Beacon Hill, Canyon Park, Federal Way, First Hill, Lynnwood, Northgate, Puyallup, Renton and Totem Lake.