The Long Game: Limbering up for Solo Travel

Featured Image: Prepping for a trip means more than just packing nowdays… / Photo credit: Jürgen Hüls on Adobe Stock

Expert Tips for Women from Dr. Nekessa Remy

By Amanda Burgess, Editor 

The pandemic has grounded travellers the world over, and the nature of working from home and restricting movement domestically poses risks to our health, regardless of whether we’ve experienced injuries before or not. We turned to health and wellness expert and JourneyWoman Women’s Travel Advisory Council member Dr. Nekessa Remy for some insights and tips to get us ready for the day we can pack our bags and get travelling again.

“Before COVID, the average woman or Canadian sat for 11 hours,” Dr. Remy says. “That number is increasing every day – we’re hitting 13 hours on average. People are working from home. Everything is a constant Zoom meeting or phone call. So, we’re sitting at computers for hours upon hours. The more we sit, unfortunately what happens is the muscles get weaker and the joints get stiffer. It doesn’t matter how much yoga you are doing if you’re sitting for 13 hours a day, and that’s really going to restrict your mobility once you want to get going again.”

A sedentary lifestyle poses many risks to overall health, so in this period where working from home has become the norm, it’s important for women to schedule stand-and-move breaks. Women in particular are guilty of getting so caught up in what we’re doing that hours go by and we only notice when we experience back pain or get a kink in our necks. We’re doing our health a disservice in the name of productivity.

Women already feel the push-pull between work, family obligations and making time for themselves, but there are preventative habits you can integrate into your day in this time of pause to ensure you move lighter and freer when you are able to.

“Set a timer on your laptop or your watch so every 60 minutes that timer goes off, you know it’s time to stand up, get some water or go for a short walk,” says Dr. Remy.

A working mother, Dr. Remy is the first to admit that she doesn’t always practice what she preaches, and often gets caught up in the work vortex herself. That’s why she also recommends some simple exercises that you can do at your desk while reading an email or on a conference call.

“You want to make mobility and flexibility training accessible. You don’t have to leave your desk to literally stretch every muscle in your body. You want to stretch your neck, upper and lower back, and hips – those three areas should be stretched every hour,” she says.

Limbering up now for the day we travel again

We pore so much time and effort into our travel planning, but we often overlook the important process of preparing our bodies for more activity than they are used to. With a few modifications to our daily routines, we can spend this time on the ground limbering up for that next flight.

“One thing I will often tell my patients while they are travelling is before getting out of bed in the morning, take five minutes to prepare your body for the activities ahead. Travelling involves a lot of walking, and you’re up for long periods of time. You need to prepare your body for that. So why not get into the habit of doing it now?” says Dr. Remy. “Before you get up and even brush your teeth, take time to lie in your bed. Pull your knees up to your chest one at a time. You can do little circles or trace the alphabet with your ankles to get your feet warmed up, because that’s the other issue I see a lot with women when they’re travelling – foot and ankle injuries.”

Morning stretches in-bed: A how-to guide

Knee to chest stretches
1. Lie on your back with legs straight.
2. Pull one knee up towards your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg or glute region. Make sure to grab behind the knee.
3. Hold for 20 seconds and then switch sides.

Ankle mobility stretches
While lying down in bed or seated, trace the alphabet with each ankle at least twice through. If you have any swelling in your ankle, perform this exercise with the ankle soaking in an Epsom salt bath.

For women with existing mobility issues, Dr. Remy recommends speaking to an expert to get prevention and preparation advice geared to your unique set of issues and needs.

Some women, like Jeanne F-F, never let mobility issues slow them down. At 61, Jeanne has moderate arthritis and plantar fasciitis that flares occasionally. Two years ago, she travelled solo three times with her leg in a cast.

“I had to adjust my itinerary, skip a thing or two, but what I did instead was among the most memorable of my lifetime. It was off the beaten path, driving a little Fiat up and down twisty turny small mountains on the ruins of an old Roman Road, during white truffle season – aaahhhh, yes, I had to rest my foot that day, but it turned out to be an epic adventure,” says Jeanne. “I also have lungs damaged from a pulmonary embolism I had due to a blood clotting disorder. I adapt itineraries at altitude in particular and have found ways to maintain my mobility and independence while travelling, nonetheless.”

Adapting for travel with assistive devices

Some travel requires women recovering from injuries to bring assistive devices with them. Whereas travel prep for people who don’t require them is flexible, Dr. Remy cautions that using your devices while travelling must be included in your preparation and recommends seeking the advice of an expert.

Maria S. – who once broke a hip while travelling – has some ongoing mobility issues with osteoarthritis and back problems, and always ensures that she travels with a variety of assistive devices.

“While I don’t always use or need them, some of the items I travel with are a knee brace, back brace and folding walking stick. When making reservations, I always ask for a room that has a walk-in shower,” she says. “I might have to walk a little more slowly. Standing in lines for boarding for a long time could be a little challenging, but so far, it’s been okay. I will typically sit until I see the line is shortened. At home I try to do yoga every day and walk. But even in the best-case scenario I could still have pain.”

Last year, Maria took a five-hour walking tour of Barcelona. As it was a private tour, she was able to request a few stops so she could sit and rest for a few minutes. She had no issues that day, but experienced pain and inflammation for the next two days. “I guess moderation is the key!” she says. “If more tour operators could offer shorter tours and flexibility based on individual needs, that would be a plus for me.”

Similarly, Marilyn T. has no ongoing mobility issues, but she was on crutches for a long stint after knee and foot surgeries. Travelling with crutches gifted Marilyn with deep insight into how unfriendly airports can be to people requiring mobility aids.

“Airports can really be a challenge for travellers with mobility issues. Perhaps a luggage locker outside of washrooms so you don’t have to bring in your luggage. I understand the security issues with luggage, but there has to be a better way! There is no way I could maneuver into washrooms with luggage while using crutches,” Marilyn says. “I found many restaurants were not set up very well for people using crutches. Often, the paper towels were far from the sinks, so it was necessary to crutch over with wet hands. The washroom doors into the main washroom are often on springs so that they shut. The washroom may be big enough, but the door is too heavy to open when balancing on crutches. Flights are bad for everyone – the seats and washrooms are simply too small.”

We need to invest in our health

There are millions of demands on women today, and this shows no sign of easing it the stress-inducing pandemic era. No one understands this better than Dr. Remy, but if there’s one thing that she wishes women knew about improving and preserving our mobility as we age, it’s that we have to invest in our health the way we invest in other areas of our lives.

“I get it – you have kids, you have partners, you have work. We are guilty of putting other people first before our own health. It’s like that oxygen mask theory, right? You have to take care of yourself before you take care of others,” she says. “You are your own health advocate. You are the best person to know what’s going on with your body. If something isn’t feeling right, get it checked out. Get a massage, see a chiropractor or physio. But don’t wait for pain – it’s a signal that your body has gone past what it’s capable of.”

Signs and symptoms to pay attention to include headaches (which can indicate neck restrictions), and morning stiffness. Yes, stiffness comes with age, but it can also be caused by bad posture, not having the right pillow, or sleeping on an old, worn-out mattress. Addressing these issues early can have a positive impact on your overall health and mobility.

Want more tips from Dr. Remy? We’re planning a series of articles focused on preparing your body for travel, how to stay flexible, and more. If you have a particular area of injury prevention you’d like to see addressed, share it in the comments below.

Amanda Burgess

Amanda Burgess, a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure, is our Editor at JourneyWoman. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), and a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it.

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