TRAVEL HEALTH: SUSTAINING STAMINA ON THE GO

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Nothing punishes the body more than prolonged travel.

For solo backpackers on a shoe-string budget like me, traveling means not just surviving high-stress  independent itinerary planning, scrounging for funds and pre-booking months ahead before my departure date but jet lags, extreme weather conditions on the road, along with living through months of extreme physical strain with never enough sleep and little food.

At first glance, it should have been easy. From my twenties, I’ve been used to the strict physical regimen of professional theater and dance – that means a regimen of six hours of classes nonstop plus three hours of rehearsals, on top of three shows per day – two matinees and an evening show, each lasting two hours each.

Performing overseas, my usual routine consisted of workout and rehearsals each morning then four shows of one hour each per night, starting 9PM up to 1:30 AM, seven days a week.

When I discovered the great outdoors, I was mountaineering, hefting an over 50-pound backpack over 5,000 feet of rough terrain, 8 to 12 hours per day. Or, I was doing multiple dives – up to a handful per day in open water.

Then it was shuttling between over 50 degrees centigrade in the great desert and over minus 30 degrees through the Russian and the Mongolian winters.

Always, it’s a question of how I will keep my stamina and sustain my energy do what I have to do.

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Of course, everything became more complicated when I passed my fourth decade and I collected a handful of injuries and ailments.

In 2008, I was bitten by the 250-pound abused cougar I cared for in a wildlife sanctuary. Aside from 17 stitches on my left hand, I sustained a dislocated shoulder. Up to now, the bones on my left wrist are separated. I can never heft the kind of weight I used to.

Then my right shin bone was fractured during a race three years ago – before doctors told me I have breast cancer.

I’ve never allowed anything to stop me from living my bliss, however.

A few months before that diagnosis, I have solo-climbed and summitted 12,400-foot Mt. Fuji. And two years later, in 2013, I volunteered for a couple of months in South Africa, diving with great white sharks, caring for white tigers, lions, cheetahs and caracals.

My latest adventure, from June to October this year, was solo-backpacking across 18 European countries, 35 cities and more than half a hundred destinations.

To say that I’m a doctor’s nightmare could be an understatement. Shortly before my last grand trip, my doctors discovered I have asthma and my Blood Pressure is climbing. I’m supposed to have arrhythmia – irregular heart beat – as well.

I chose to forget about the rest of my ailments and remain unfazed. After all, I still have lots of items in my bucket list – though I have already visited 60 countries in five continents.

I can never have enough, I think.

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DISCOVERING SUPPLEMENTS FOR STRENGTH AND STAMINA

When I did my first 3-month solo backpacking trip in Europe four years ago, I was sick from Day One of my journey.

My whooping cough wasn’t helped by weeks of sleepless nights before my departure as I have to finish tons of writing assignments and do advance work on top of last-minute purchases for my packing list and seemingly little tasks – such as personally advancing payments for utilities so my services won’t be cut off during my absence – that cost too much time.

I’m a single woman living alone, an only child and an orphan with no messengers or servants to do my errands. I have to do everything by myself.

After booking all my plane tickets, my jump-on, jump-off buses, my hostels and campgrounds half a year in advance, I cannot revise my travel schedule to wait until I’m well, so I doggedly forged ahead, to hell with everything.

Needless to say, I took a lot of medicines with me. But I failed to shake off the cough and colds and the horrible feeling of being sick until more than halfway my journey. Worse, I picked up every contagion there is whenever people sneezed or coughed in the buses, trains, ferries and planes.

I also suffered agonizing knee pains daily, aggravated by lifting my heavy luggage over hundreds of flights of steps (many of the hostels in Europe still don’t have elevators) and pounding miles and miles of bone-rattling cobblestone streets, up and down railway and bus platforms, ferry gangways, you name it.

I slept each night and woke up each day with excruciating back pains – plus bad knees and pain in the arches of my feet. I could barely stand in the mornings.

Miraculously, I survived. I was younger then but it took me three months to recover from my three-month trip. At some points, you are desensitized to pain and your adrenaline takes over. This was my dream journey of a lifetime. But on hindsight, I could have spared myself a lot of pain and discomfort, if I had at least taken supplements.

When I did my latest four-month solo adventure, I went in the cold. I had no physical conditioning, no preparation at all for my body. I felt I was so pressed for time, I conveniently forgot my doctor’s advice to get a full medical check-up at least two months before I fly to London, the first of my 35-city stops, and get a handful of immunity shots. Anyway, I loathe the needle and the sight and feel of hospitals.

Before, I never go on high-adventure trips, like my one-month canyoneering adventure in Arizona and Utah, without at least a couple of months training. I kept to a regular jogging program, daily stair-climbing with a backpack, plus the usual aerobics exercise. There was a time I monitored my diet strictly, devising balanced meal plans and keeping track of what I eat everyday.

All that flew out of the window in the past half-decade, after my ailments and injuries forced me to a sedentary life. I also found it was more convenient to eat out of a can and depend on sweets for quick energy fixes. So, I put on a lot of weight. Oh, I still have to climb 100 steps a day because my place is a walk-up but now, I was panting heavily after the first two flights.

So, I was surprised when I survived four months of high-stress backpacking this year, through rain, heat wave and winter conditions, without getting sick at all. I simply took Usana Essentials- a broad-spectrum multi-vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant daily supplement for adults.

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I first heard about Usana from my best friend. Her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and she did some of the cancer regimen I’ve followed before, including daily coffee enemas and metabolic diet – with a difference. She’s regularly taking Usana Essentials and leading the kind of active life only a perfectly healthy individual could have, traveling all over the country and overseas.

The Essentials – Mega Antioxidant™ and Chelated Mineral™ are derived from olive fruit extract that form the foundation of USANA’s nutritional system with the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. I took a tablet of each per day from the moment I boarded the plane to the last day of my four-month trip and I was never sick.

Of course, on the first week, half of which I spent in transit by air and land, I didn’t feel so great. My body clock was skewed as I jumped from time zone to time zone. But by the end of the second week, I found I was getting stronger though I was down to one meal a day because I had to tighten my purse strings.  After the first month, I wasn’t panting that much anymore though I was trekking longer, my load was heavier and my travel schedule was crazier.

By the fourth month, I was trekking between 15 to 30 kilometers per day. I would travel all day in a busload of coughing and sick backpackers without succumbing to any bug. I averaged five hours of sleep but never felt sleep-deprived. I woke up refreshed each morning. Fellow backpackers and friends at home kept asking me where I summon so much energy.

Best of all, I didn’t suffer knee pains anymore. Oh, a couple of months before my trip, I took The Procosa™ II supplement of Usana that supports and maintains the cartilage in the joints. For my trip, I brought knee and ankle supports, but in the end, I found no use for them. I developed thick callouses on my soles after a quarter of a year of long daily treks – there’s no escaping that – but I had no more horrible pains on my arches.

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A week after I returned from my prolonged travel, my stress level was still soaring six times the average. I took a stress test among over half a thousand professionals in a wellness conference I covered. Most of the participants scored 50. I was one of two in the huge ballroom who scored almost 300.

Well, first of all, I came home to an almost uninhabitable, flood-damaged unit. My unit was below a handful of vacant, unsold units in the top deck. The four super typhoons during my absence peeled off the roof so that water floods the insides whenever it rains, dumping all the water down my walls, creating cataracts. For the second month now, I’m living like a hobo, without electricity – because all my wires are grounded, without phone and internet. I returned penniless from my travels, so repairs have to wait.

Yet I’ve never ceased to wonder how my immunity system kept holding up for the past two months. Before, I would have been wheezing within three days of living in the alternating mildew wetness and the infernal heat.

I’m hoping I’ll find a way to improve my living conditions before the next rainy season … and of course, I have lots of traveling in 2015, when I’m looking forward to a couple of months jungle-trekking in the Amazon, walking jaguars and perhaps trekking in Aconcagua, the highest peak in Latin America.

solo female travel

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