Photo: NadezhDA222/Shutterstock

5 Exercises To De-Stress On Long Flights

by Andrew Brown Nov 9, 2007

It’s been three hours since you last moved. Your various body parts have ganged up and are about to pay you back for the abuse your latest bout of travel has heaped upon them.

It’s time to quash that rebellion before it begins.

The aches, tiredness and general achy feelings that most of us experience on longer flights is often as much to do with blood flow as it is with jet-lag.

Here are 5 exercises you can do to improve your blood-flow and have a much better chance of making it to your hotel room without cramping up, bursting into tears or punching anyone.

1. Go for a walk

Even on the new jetliners, space is offered at a premium. A normal walk isn’t going to be able to help you much.

We can renovate our walking and get our blood flowing by deliberately lifting our knees high with each step (be gentle, kicking other passengers is a great way to meet airline security).

I wouldn’t recommend walking ten miles like this, but in the cramped conditions it will force extra blood flow through your posterior and give your whole body a wake up. Try to lift your knees to waist height with each step.

If you’re self conscious wait until everyone else has their sleep masks on and do a couple of laps of economy. Your fellow travelers will still think you’re weird, but they’ll pretend they’re sleeping.

2. The full body roll

The seatbelt lights on. You know you have to stay in your seat, but after hours in the air, cramps are setting in and you’re in pain. You feel like you need to so something, but without upsetting your air hostess.

Just rolling your shoulders might help, but again I think we can do better. (If there is eleven hours to go on our flight, we have to.)

This exercise starts as a shoulders roll but continue the motion down your body as if you were trying to touch your stomach, then your hips on the seat in front of you. Once you have finished this and collected a worried look from those around you, reverse the motion.

Five to ten sets back and forth will help get extra blood and nutrients to your tired upper body’s muscles and joints.

3. Bobble head

We’ve walked, we’ve rolled. Things are feeling better, but a major area of our body still desperately needs our help.

Our necks and shoulders collect most of our tension during long periods of sitting and this goes double if you type or otherwise occupy your hands during the flight.

First of all, gently rotate your neck to reintroduce blood flow. Imagine a pen has been attached point down to your chin. Pretend to draw tiny circles on your food tray with your imaginary pen.

Gradually increase the size of each circle until you reach twenty reps and you are at your comfortable range of motion. Now reverse direction, starting with the small circles again and working your way up.

I generally do this just once in either direction, but since you aren’t moving beyond a comfortable range of motion it’s safe to perform several sets each way.

4. Spinal decompression

After hours in your seat, your spine feels like it’s been fused together into one stiff painful rod. This exercise is designed to help you gently relax and lengthen your spine and back muscles.

While still in your seat bring your knees up and hug them to your chest. If this is impossible then grip underneath your knees with your calf muscles resting on your forearms.

Take a deep breath, hold for a second and then breathe out. As you breathe out gently rock your self back and forth in your seat.

Then explain to the passenger next you what you’re doing. Trust me, they want to know.

Five full breathes in and out with accompanying gentle rocking will help alleviate back pain and also makes a good wake up and mobility exercise if you have managed to catch an in flight nap.

5. Spinal tension release

If, after you have tried the decompression exercise, your back is still feeling stiff or sore, then something more drastic may be required.

You will notice that this exercise is the only pure stretch that I have given you, and as such I would rather that you tried everything else in this article first to warm up before doing the tension release.

Bring one leg off the floor (I always start on the right) and rest it on the top of the opposite knee (it should look like you have half folded your legs). You should feel slight tension in your hamstrings as they are stretched.

Take your left hand across your body and use it to gently twist your upper body away from the leg that’s on the floor. Imagine you’re trying to look at something interesting two rows back from you and on the ceiling.

If you carry a lot of tension in your back, as I do, there may be a series of clicking sounds from your back. These aren’t anything to worry about as long as you aren’t feeling any pain.

Once you have done the right hand turn, repeat on your left. I always recommend doing the release on both sides, as if just one side is done you can end causing yourself more pain. Not less.

The most important piece of advice

All of these exercises are intended to be done gently. You’re in cramped space with other people, so sudden movements will be counter productive.

If you have any injuries to the areas I’ve mentioned extra blood flow is probably still a good thing, but run it by your Dr before you go popping any stitches.

There are many other exercises you can do to help you overcome the stress and strain of air travel. The principles I have presented in this article can easily be applied to any other exercises you can think up.

Have fun, experiment a little and see what works. After all, if you’ve done these five exercises, your fellow passengers have now accepted your weirdness and will avoid you at baggage claim.

Who cares what they think.

Andrew Brown is a freelance writer and fitness enthusiast working out of Christchurch New Zealand. You can check out more of his writing at Fighter’s Review or at his blog.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.