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Road trips to summer vacation destinations can be a fun, economical alternative to flying. But as hours on the open road add up and fast food wrappers stack up, tempers can flare, setting a stressful tone for what should be pleasurable days ahead.

“Long car rides can have several negative effects on passengers,” says Wayne Andersen, MD. Andersen is medical director for Take Shape for Life Wellness program in New York City. Sitting in the same position for an extended period of time can cause swelling in the lower legs, contraction of the muscles, and stiffness in your joints, he says. People prone to motion sickness are affected by winding, smaller highways, especially if they attempt to read.

“And on top of all that, people have a tendency to eat food on the road that’s full of sugar, salt, and fat to relieve boredom. These fast foods can worsen the swelling and lead to weight gain,” he says. Not to mention the general grumpiness that can ensue.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Armed with the right strategies, not only can you and your family survive a long car trip and the travel food that often goes along with it, you can use it as a way to bond and kick off a fun-filled vacation. Here’s how:

Fight mental stress with physical stress

“At least every two hours, do something that stresses your muscles for 30 to 60 seconds,” suggests Dian Griesel, PhD, author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.

Human growth hormone levels rise when you stress muscles for as little as 30 seconds, Griesel says. “Once HGH starts to flow, you automatically feel less hungry, so you’ll be less likely to stop for food on the road,” she says. “HGH also helps promote general muscle strength.” To keep levels high and prevent mindless eating in the car, she suggests doing one of the following exercises for at least 30 seconds every two hours you’re in the car:

  • Take your hands and press them together as hard as you can, palms flat, elbows at shoulder height. Pull in your stomach at the same time.
  • Put your hands together as if you were praying and bend your fingers down so your knuckles are together and your hands form a heart shape. Then press your elbows together as hard as you can.
  • Suck in your stomach and hold it tight for as long as you can. Release and breathe.
  • For passengers, hold onto the seat, brace yourself, and try to lift your legs up off the ground. Keep your knees and ankles together, and try to bring your knees to your chest.