Written By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT
My hatred of running is only overshadowed by my love of travel. Anytime, anywhere, I’m willing to pack up and go and see what kind of adventures I can have, and my friends use that to their advantage. That being said, besides a family trip to Lake Tahoe last year I haven’t been on a vacation in a few years and I was getting antsy. Enter one of my best friends. During an afternoon phone conversation, she mentioned she missed traveling and Europe; I latched on to that off-handed comment and the next thing you know I’m getting ready to leave soon for seventeen days overseas. As my departure date has approached, I’ve had a lot on my plate and a lot of things I’m thinking about, but one of them (being the PT nerd that I am) is how am I going to manage that 10-12-hour non-stop flight without too much pain in general. Looking at all the information out there on how to stay healthy on long-haul flights, there are a lot of similarities in everyone’s approach, and I felt that I wanted to add my own two cents to the conversation.
The first thing for me when getting ready for extended time flying, your preparation should actually start a couple weeks before the flight, making sure you’re in the best place you can be, health-wise. I personally start drinking one pack of Emergen-C daily to try and help boost my immune system and keep away any potential colds that could arise from increased workload due to trip preparation and exhaustion. We also know that one of the worst positions you can put your body in is a dehydration state. Dehydration can increase your risk of muscle cramping, indigestion, headaches/migraines, and illness; compound this by getting on a plane for an absurdly long flight and your risks increase. To try and alleviate this, two weeks prior to a trip (at least) I start increasing my fluid intake to somewhere around 8-10 glasses of water a day. And to make sure I maintain my hydration levels, I carry an empty water bottle in my carry on and fill it up prior to take off. The other advantage to this: if you have to go to the bathroom during your flight, it forces you to stand up and move at least a few times.
The next thing on my list is to make sure what I choose to wear on the plane is both comfortable and functional. Planes, as we know, can be really warm, really cold, or somewhere in between, and shifts in atmosphere can do a number on your immune system. I make sure I have several light layers and a large scarf so that I can take off/put on anything I need to be comfortable with the current temperature on the plane. I’m also someone who will have her feet swell, no matter how long the flight, so every time I go somewhere (no matter how long the trip) I always wear a pair of knee-high, over the counter compression socks. This not only helps alleviate any leg swelling that may occur, but it also assists with circulation and decreases your chances of blood clots.
Once I’m on my flight, the biggest thing on my mind is how am I going to stay flexible and keep moving. Staying sedentary on long flights is one of the worst things you can do for your body, and can increase your risk of blood clots. Because I want to stay limber, I come up with a few things I can do seated and standing, in addition to movement-based exercises:
· Seated: I make sure I’m moving my ankles in several directions, not just up and down (ABCs and pumps), lift arms overhead and stretch with gentle motions bending to the right and left, easy twists right and lift, gluteal isometrics, core isometrics, shoulder blade squeezes, and chin tucks
o Any stretches I try to hold 20-30 seconds each, and any isometrics or activities are held for 10-30 seconds for several repetitions.
· Standing: heel raises, forward bends, overhead reach with gentle spine side bend, gentle rotation, squats and lunges (usually in the aisles or in the front of the seating section for more space), push-ups against the wall
o I try to get at least 10 repetitions of the heel raises, squats, and lunges in at a time
· Moving: I will try and get up and walk for a few minutes every 1-2 hours. I know this is usually easier when you have an aisle seat, but it’s really important for you to get up and move and not stay sedentary your entire flight. During my walks I may do some gentle knee ups, butt kickers, or lunges, just to change the movement up. And if people are looking, who cares? It’s more important to stay active during a flight than worrying about people looking at you. Now the caveat to this is that all of these exercises can be done without inconveniencing anyone else or being inconsiderate to your fellow travelers.
I know there are a dozen other areas of flight preparation that could be addressed, but as a PT, these are the biggest categories for me. If you’re physically prepared for your long-haul flight and you stay active throughout, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running once you arrive at your destination.
I love my patients and our clinic, but it’s time for a vacation for this therapist to re-charge. And while I will miss you guys while I’m away, I’ll be sending updates on my adventures, so be sure to check out our Instagram @reisspt to see what I’ve been getting up to. And until I get back, make sure to take care of yourselves and find a little bit of peace and joy in each day.