Even if you pull out all the stops and get yourself a berth in first class, flying is not great for your body. Sitting in one position for hours on end leads to stiffness and fatigue at best, and at worst you can find that flying can affect your mental health by causing stress or anxiety, and can even cause serious physical conditions like deep vein thrombosis.
You can lessen these negative effects by moving around a little on the flight, but also by getting your body ready for it by being active at the airport beforehand. To help with this, London Stansted Airport has partnered with fitness studio FRAME to offer exercise classes in the terminal three times a day from 5th to 7th February. These will aim to improve your circulation and stretch key muscles ahead of the journey.
That’s great news if you’re flying from Stansted on those days, but we aren’t, so we enlisted FRAME’s co-founder Joan Murphy for some advice on how you can help your body better cope with the rigours of a long flight. Murphy’s advice starts in the terminal.
“It’s tempting to check in your bags and head straight for the bar for an hour or so before your flight,” says Murphy. “But before you do that, try to walk around as much as possible to keep the blood flowing through the body, taking the stairs where you can. If you are keen to go straight to the bar try standing while you drink instead of sitting.”
Don’t overdo the booze, however, because another tip is to stay hydrated.
“This might seem like a very obvious one, but unfortunately lots of people are not getting enough fluids when travelling,” says Murphy. “In a climate-controlled environment the relative humidity can be as low as 10-15%. To put this in perspective, that’s drier than the Sahara Desert.” That’s not the only reason to lay off the sauce. “If you know that you suffer from anxiety try to steer away from caffeine and alcohol because this will make the problem a lot worse,” says Murphy.
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Finally, stretch. You don’t have to make a scene with this either in the airport or on the plane itself, because there are useful stretches you can do without leaving your seat.
“Stretching before a flight will improve circulation during the flight and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis,” says Murphy. “There are lots of ways to stretch, but let’s be honest – most of us will be too embarrassed to drop into downward dog in front of hundreds of fellow travellers and that’s totally fine. Work through a couple of sets of these more subtle but still effective ways to stretch instead.”
Seated hip opener
“Take a seat and place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart,” says Murphy. “Make sure you are sitting up straight with your shoulders down and away from your ears. Lift your right leg and place your right ankle on your left knee with your right foot flexed. Keeping your back straight, hinge from the hips and bring your chest slowly towards your lap. Hold and feel the hip releasing – stay here for five long breaths. Repeat with the left leg. If you’re lucky enough to have extra leg room you can do it in-flight as well.”
“Sit and place your feet flat on the ground hip-width apart,” says Murphy. “Keeping your chest proud and your shoulders away from your ears, start to twist to the right and bring your gaze over your right shoulder. Take your left hand and hold on to the side of your right thigh, use it to lever yourself deeper into the twist. Make sure to keep both hips facing forward and your glutes planted into the seat. Take five deep breaths here and release. Repeat on the other side.”
“This is a simple but very beneficial pose especially if you’re feeling stressed or fatigued,” says Murphy. “It gives you a moment to breathe and get back into the body.
“Sit comfortably in a chair – as comfortable as is possible at an airport or on a plane! Close your eyes and let go of all muscle tension in your body. Keeping your eyes closed, notice the sensations in your body and let them pass without judgement. Stay here for as long as you can – a minimum of three minutes – and take deep breaths in and out. Then start to bring awareness back into your body and open your eyes slowly.”
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.