Midair Exercise Makes for Happier Landings

Midair Exercise Makes for Happier Landings

By Josh Noel

RISMEDIA, November 2, 2010–(MCT)–Being an “unbelievably frequent flier” and a physical therapist means Nicole Stout knows how to get through an 18-hour flight.

She most recently took such a flight — to Johannesburg — at the end of August and spent her waking hours often in some kind of motion, be it walking the aisle, twisting into yoga shapes, or simply lifting her arms and legs in her seat.

Exercise is important on any flight, but particularly long flights. That can be doubly so for business travelers who need to be on their game shortly after landing.

“Last summer I landed in Venice at 11 a.m. and had to make a presentation at 2,” said Stout, who works with oncology patients in a Bethesda, Md., naval hospital. “You can’t afford to have neck or back pain on that kind of schedule.”

There are two central medical hazards to flying, she said.

First is simply the change in air pressure.

“That lends itself to swelling,” Stout said. “When you have that bit of swelling, joints can get tight and stiff. Being mobile, even on a short flight, can help.”

More ominous is deep-vein thrombosis, better known as blood clots in the legs, which can result from pooling blood that is not returned to the heart because of inactivity. Clots can be simple pain for some people but may become more complicated for people with heart or kidney problems.

So what does a physical therapist do? In-flight exercise, of course.

Stout has two lists of suggestions, one for beginners and one for advanced in-flight exercisers like herself. Both work major muscle groups.

“These large muscles are important because of blood circulation,” she said. “You need contraction of muscles to return the blood to the heart.”

And if someone gives you funny looks while lunging down the aisle?

“I get them all the time, and they don’t bother me,” Stout said. “I think to myself, ‘When I get off the plane, I’m going to feel really good, and you’re not.'”


—Shoulder shrugs, shoulder rolls. Ten each.
—Short sets of bending and straightening the elbows and knees.
—Walk through the plane every two hours.
—March your knees up and down in your seat.
—Lift and lower your feet on tiptoes to work the calves.

—Neck stretches; hold on each side for 15 to 20 seconds.
—If you can find space (Stout suggests near an exit), work the core with yoga stretches. Pigeon pose — an intermediate move of folding one leg under the body while stretching the back leg out — is an in-flight favorite of hers.
—In your seat, lift your arms over your head, grip your hands together and lean from side to side for a few seconds on each side. Repeat.
—Walk the length of the plane every hour, incorporating deep lunges. Unless you want air marshals on your case, it might be wise to notify a flight attendant.
—Put a small flight pillow in small of back to keep posture upright.

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.