Don’t Just Sit There!


Sitting on an airplane plane during a long flight can be a stressful, tiring and uncomfortable experience. Studies have even shown that sitting in the same position for extended periods of time can lead to the development of high stress and serious health problems such as musculoskeletal disorders and blood clots.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exercising on long flights and fitness trainers have developed some simple exercises that will help keep your blood flowing and minimize discomfort during your flight.

The first thing to do when beginning your airplane workout, just like any workout, is to make sure that you are breathing in a way that relaxes your muscles and that will help calm any anxiety you may have about flying. Sit up straight in a comfortable position, and take a slow, deep inhale through your nose while expanding your stomach.  Next, exhale slowly through your mouth as your stomach collapses and tightens to push out the air. If you do this exercise for 5-10 minutes in the beginning of your flight, more oxygen will enter your body and effect a feeling of calm for your flight.

After sitting on the plane in a cramped and awkward position for the duration of a flight, many people complain of stiffness and pain in the neck.  Neck pillows are a great way to ease the pain, but the lack of movement can still lead to feelings of restriction and inflexibility upon arrival.  People often fall asleep in awkward positions and awaken to neck pains.  These easy exercises will help to lessen that pain and relieve feelings of stiffness on a flight.

First, inhale and bring your right hand to your left ear. As you exhale, slowly pull your head to your right shoulder while reaching your left arm to the floor.  Hold this position for up to a minute while slowly inhaling and exhaling and then switch sides. After completing this exercise, roll your head in a circular motion from one shoulder to the other in order to stretch your neck out and prevent it from getting stiff.

While you may not get off the plane with a six pack, these easy exercises will help tone your core during that long and boring flight. First, sit up as tall as you can in your seat, and lift one foot three to six inches off the floor. Try to hold your foot in the air for thirty seconds while constantly tightening your core. Repeat this on the other foot and do it 15 times per foot.

Next, since you cannot lie down in the middle of the aisle to do crunches, trainers have recommended a way to do crunches while seated. Sit up straight, bend your knees and raise your legs until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Exhale and bring your knees toward your body. Inhale and return to the starting position, without touching the floor. Try to repeat this as many times as possible.

Bringing weights onto the plane may not be the best way to buff up, but there are other ways to work your arms by simply using what the plane has provided for you. Start by firmly grabbing both armrests. Next, use your arms to push up so you’re lifting your rear-end off the seat. Hover over your seat for up to 20 seconds before coming back down. Flex your abdominal muscles while raised off of your seat in order to work your core as well as your arms. Try to do this in sets of ten.

If you think that this movement may disturb your neighbor, a more subtle exercise is to squeeze a tennis ball, racquetball or, the most practical on a flight, a pair of socks with your hands, this will help improve your forearm and grip strength.  Continue this until your hands are tired.

While seated for hours at a time on a flight, legs begin to feel stiff and twitchy. These four simple leg exercises and stretches will help to avoid that uncomfortable feeling:

  • Sit up straight in your seat, with your seat belt on, and raise your legs as far in front of you as possible, bending your knees if necessary. Reach your arms forward and touch your toes, while your legs are stretched as far as possible. Pointing your toes will add some additional stretch.
  • Cross your legs so that one foot is on the ground and the other is dangling and then rotate the dangling foot in as wide a circle as possible until you are tired.
  • Place your carryon bag on your knees and keep the balls of your feet planted. Raise your legs by using your calf muscles and pushing your toes into the ground, as if standing on your tip-toes.
  • Plant your heels and raise your toes as high as possible. Hold for five seconds, relax and repeat.

As stifling, uncomfortable and draining as a long flight can be, these simple exercises will help improve the experience and prevent the development of musculoskeletal disorders caused by sitting in the same position for an extended period of time. Do not skip your daily workout just because you are travelling, take advantage of this time and create a more exciting and valuable plane ride!

Author: Jamie Conn
Jamie Conn is a guest writer for the Healthy Travel blog. She is a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University. Currently, she is exploring options for a major in medicine, health and society, economics or engineering management. 

Photo by SuperJet International.


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