Fitness on the Fly

Fitness on the Fly

By Nancy Bruning, MPH

While flying home for the holidays might lead to joy, the trip itself will likely be anything but. After the long lines and hours of sitting, you’re likely to arrive tired, thirsty, and cranky, with your brain and body feeling like they’ve been through the ringer. The good news is that many airlines and airports are trying to make travel healthier and more pleasant. And there are many things you can also do to prepare yourself for the experience.


Some airports have yoga studios.
Some airports have yoga studios.

Emotional and mental stressors include anxieties about the trip itself, making it to the airport on time, and all that happens when arrive. Sometimes, fear of flying gets thrown in too.
Physical stressors can include lugging and lifting luggage, walking faster than usual (or racing) to get to a departure gate, and having trouble finding healthy foods and beverages.


Hydration on high

Moreover, it is no secret that the air inside the plane leaves something to be desired. It draws in very dry air at high altitudes, which can dry out your skin nose and mouth. The solution is to hydrate frequently, preferably with water and diluted fruit juices. If the flight attendant doesn’t come around with water frequently enough, don’t be shy – ask. If your nose gets very dry, there are saline nasal sprays or gels to buy before your flight that might help.


Even while you’re seated on the plane, you can flex.
Even while you’re seated on the plane, you can flex.

Of serious concern is the possibility of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is associated with sitting for long periods of time. DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein located deep in your body. It usually affects the legs and leads to swelling, pain, or tenderness. DVT can be dangerous when the blood clot breaks apart and travels to the lungs, blocking blood flow and damaging your lungs.
Sitting increases the risk of DVT, so try to get an aisle seat, so you don’t stir disturb other passengers as you get up to walk up and down the aisle. Try to find somewhere unobtrusive to stand and perform small stretching movements fit for a small space. Even while sitting, you can also do leg exercises. Plant your heels on the floor and then pull up your toes. Then pull up your heels, keeping your toes pressed to the floor. Alternating these movements will stretch your calf muscles and encourage blood flow.

Jet stress or jet lag?


Even while you’re seated on the plane, you can flex.
Airlines are offering a few suggestions.

The difference between jet stress and jet lag has to do with the direction in which you are flying. Jet lag occurs when your body’s circadian rhythms gets disrupted, which happens when you cross at least one time zone when you travel east to west and your internal body clock is not in sync with the time of your destination. Jet stress on the other hand, is due to the accumulation of stress before, during, and after the flight, and means you arrive fatigued, irritable, and maybe sore. Jet lag can cause insomnia, feeling sleepy in the daytime, difficulty concentrating, and troubles with digestion or menstruation. Unfortunately, you can have both jet lag and jet stress.
You can help avoid jet stress and jet lag by being well rested before you leave on your trip. Take care of your body by maintaining your exercise routine and a healthy diet in the weeks before you travel. For jet lag, you need to take additional measures to resynchronize your body clock. It’s best to fall in line with the time of your destination. Go to sleep when other people sleep and get up when they get up. Set your watch to the local time when you embark on the plane. For every time zone you cross, the recommendation is to budget one day for adjustment. Light therapy helps, and you can do this yourself by getting up early every day and exposing yourself to sunlight.

Walk around as much as you can.
Walk around as much as you can.

At the airport

The travel business has begun encouraging opportunities to keep travelers physically active. No one will look at you oddly if you walk briskly from one terminal to the other, adding a few stretches now and then. If your luggage allows, take the stairs instead of escalators and elevators. Do a Google search for “airport walking path” to see what your departure and arrival airports have to offer.

For something fancier, The American College of Sports Medicine has created a list of U.S. airports and their physical activity features, from yoga studios and health clubs to marked indoor and outdoor walking paths. Often, hotels connected to airports make their health clubs available to non-guests for a small fee.

Other examples include the Mount Vernon Trail near the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the 18-hole golf course at Salt Lake City international Airport, and numerous airports with fitness centers, massage stations, play zones for children, and more. Other options include what I spotted recently at the airport at Reykjavík, Iceland: stationary bicycles that can power up your electronic devices.


Don’t despair and plan ahead. And who knows? Instead of coming home a wreck after a long trip, you might well return in better shape than when you set out.


Nancy Bruning has a master’s degree in public health, is a certified personal trainer, and is the author or co-author of over 25 books on health and fitness, including Nancercize: 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench.  She also is the Chair of the Friends Committee of the Fort Tryon Part Trust and leads outdoor fitness experiences and weight loss workshops. She loves to travel! Visit Nancy’s web site at

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