There you are again, standing in the middle of the aisle on halfway through a trans-Atlantic flight, stretched out to maximum capacity, arms reaching up to the baggage bins, breathing in and out just like your yoga teacher instructed. Maybe you notice that the flight attendants are glaring while trying to maneuver their cart around you, a stranger is silently strategizing how to scoot past you on their way to the bathroom, and your own travel partner is staring out the window like there is something interesting to see at 35,000 feet above the ocean when we all know that there really isn’t. Don’t be that person. Be this person — the one who has all of the stealth skills required to keep your blood moving during a long haul flight without looking like a complete weirdo.
While it’s easy to sit down, turn on a movie (or five), and check out until you land, medical experts have explained that it’s important to stay active during a long haul flight. Unless you are fortunate enough to be traveling first class, the limited legroom in coach can lead to stiff, sore, and cramped legs and even more serious issues such as blood clots also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The more severe consequences only affect a fraction of the population and those at risk should consult a doctor before flying.
Here are our top strategies for exercising during a long flight while maintaining a shred of dignity and anonymity.
1. The exaggerated neck roll
When you’re sitting in one position for a long time, your neck and shoulders tend to become stiff from lack of movement. To combat sore muscles, practice the exaggerated neck roll. First, relax your shoulders and drop them down your back so your spine is elongated. Next, tilt your head to the right and roll it back and to the left. Continue this motion for five repetitions, then roll to the other side five times as well. This is a great way to stay loose, just try not to headbutt your neighbor in the process.
2. High knees from your seat
High knees are a great way to stretch out and get your blood flowing. You can replicate this same movement without getting up out of your seat. Bend forward slightly and put your hands around one of your knees. Then slowly pull that knee towards your chest. You should feel a slight stretch in your glutes. Hold for 10 seconds and then alternate knees. Do five repetitions on each side and then go back to watching that rom-com.
3. Upper body twist from a seated position
Pretend that this is a dance move for your upper body. Sit straight up in your seat and rest your forearms on the armrest. Then twist your torso so you’re facing the left side of the plane without actually moving your head. Keep your feet planted on the floor and hold this position for five seconds while practicing deep breaths. Then slowly twist to the opposite side for five more breaths.
4. Calf raises
Blood-clots commonly form in the lower extremities. It very important to increase the flow of blood by flexing your calf muscles. Hold onto a seat back or another sturdy object for support. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and slowly rise up onto your toes. Hold for a second or two, then slowly lower down. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
5. A leisurely stroll down the aisle
This is a simple reminder to stand up every once in awhile. Sure, you might need to ask your aisle mates to move and let you go by, but this one is a no-brainer. You’ve got an entire walkway at your disposal so use it. Do a full lap to the other end of the plane and then back to your seat. While you’re up, shake out your arms and legs a bit as well. But don’t get too wild with this one otherwise you’ll be bordering on weirdo status.
6. Walking lunges
Talking about weirdo status, you might need to up the ante from a leisurely stroll to full on walking lunges. There is no subtle way to perform this exercise, but we are adding it here because if a saunter did not do the trick, you might need to listen to your body and crank it up a notch. If you are feeling uncomfortable you might not care how you look. And luckily, most people recognize this exercise and understand the concept of what you’re trying to accomplish. Wait until the aisle is clear and the fasten seatbelt sign is off. Then stand up, count to ten, and start with both feet together. Take one step forward and lower your body towards the ground by bending your front leg. Move up by bringing the back leg forward to meet your front foot. Repeat on the other side until you’re too tired to continue or people start pointing, we’re not sure what will come first.
7. Take a nap and let your apparel do the work for you
Compression socks are a hotly debated item on the travel circuit. These super-tight socks are marketed towards people who travel frequently for long stretches of time. They are designed to help increase blood flow and reduce swelling on long-haul flights. The big question is — do they work? Generally speaking, the consensus is that unless you have predetermined skin issues, they certainly don’t hurt. Speaking from a fashion perspective? Well, that’s another matter…
Remember that part of staying comfortable on a long haul flight means staying hydrated and getting out of your seat to move around once an hour or so. We’re not suggesting that you lead a plane-wide jazzercise class, but creating a streamlined and subtle exercise routine that allows you to stretch out with minimal attention during a long haul flight will serve you well and help to keep you limber enough to walk off that plane with ease once it lands at your final destination.