Flying Fitness

LOOKING for new ways to get fit or to get moving? Is your schedule so busy that you're not sure how you can keep it all together--family, health, career and fitness?

Flying fitness

Flying was once a pleasure, but no more. It can be quite stressful. We put up with long security lines, hauling luggage, small seats and curious meals plus long periods of immobility and exhaustion. There are numerous health issues to face while flying, but today we will take a different tack: keeping fit during the flight. Hydration and muscle activity are the two key elements to focus upon.


Perhaps the most important thing you can do is stay well hydrated, particularly if you drink caffeine or alcohol during the flight. You may want to take an extra liter or more of bottled water with you as you board the craft, since you may have to wait to get water from the flight crew and you usually only get a single cup at a time.

You should drink enough water to stay properly hydrated. Don't judge hydration by thirst: by the time you are thirsty, it is too late--you are already dehydrated. The best gauge of hydration is how often you urinate and how clear the urine is. A good goal is clear urine every four to six hours.

Believe it or not, even trapped in your seat you can exercise. You can both work muscles and stretch while seated--it just takes a little creativity. Nearly all of these exercises should be done sitting straight, with your head held high, and repeated several times.

Let's work our way down from the head to the toes, beginning with head rolls and rotations. Turn your head from side to side, without forcing it, then put your hand against your temple and push back to resist the head rotation. Hold this for 15 to 30 seconds and then do the other side. Follow this by rolling your head back so that you look straight up for the same amount of time.

Work the shoulders next, by first raising them toward your ears and then rolling them back, down and forward in a circle several times. You can then reverse the direction of these shoulder circles.

Moving to the arms, clench your fists tightly for 15 to 30 seconds, then release. Now open your palms wide, and stretch the fingers out as far as they will reach, holding this action for the same amount of time.

As you work your way to our legs, put your palms on top of one of your knees, then resist as you raise your knee into the air, feeling the effort in your hip. Sustain this for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.

When this is done, move your feet forward, lift your toes off the floor and drive back and downward with your heels, but you should not move your feet. Sustain this again for 15 to 30 seconds.

Now, with your feet flat on the floor, raise your knees by pushing off the balls of your feet as though you were tippy-toeing. Reverse this exercise by raising the toes and balls of your feet off the floor but not your heels: repeat these sets 30 times apiece and on each side.

Finish your leg exercises by raising your foot and drawing a circle with your toes. Begin with a small circle and rotate into larger and large ones With each rotation, then reverse the direction and make smaller and smaller circles. Repeat 10 times each side.

You can repeat this whole sequence, from head to toe, several times during your flight.

You can also tighten muscle groups, keeping the contraction steady for 30 seconds, relaxing by releasing the tension and then tightening the opposite muscle group.

For example, flex your biceps, holding and sustaining them tightly, then release the tension. Follow this by straightening your arm to flex the triceps, holding the contraction firmly, then ending the set by releasing the tension and letting your elbow return to a natural bent position. You can work your way from your fingers to your toes, alternating opposing muscle groups around many joints.

Don't do any of these if they cause pain or stiffness. The goal is quite the opposite: to strengthen and add flexibility.

Comfort tips

There are other important habits to develop while flying.

In addition to hydration as discussed above, walk about the cabin, if you can, at regular intervals. Don't linger by the front, as security regulations don't permit this any more, but on long-haul flights do try to get up and about, as even a little bit helps.

Put a pillow in the small of your back to regain the natural curve of your spine.

Don't cross your legs for prolonged periods, as this decreases circulation and might lead to blood clots.

If you are traveling to the developing world, arrange a consultation with a travel medicine specialist. There is much more to travel fitness than exercises aboard a flight. A list of qualified doctors and nurses in this field can be found on the websites of the International Society of Travel Medicine ( and the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene ( The latter site also lists specialists who are qualified to diagnose and treat diseases from travel, especially from the developing world.