If you’re on a long flight – say anything longer than three hours – stretching, or at least moving around is almost essential. When the flight attendants say it’s safe to move around the cabin, take advantage of the advice by getting up and walking the aisle from time to time.
Just sitting still for long periods of time can result in fluid retention and swelling, cramping, fatigue and jet lag. In one of the most extreme examples, you could even suffer from deep leg thrombosis, sometimes called “economy class syndrome”.
There are some stretches for flying that you can do in your seat. Most airlines include some kind of article on stretches in their inflight magazine. Look in the back where you find route maps and inflight information.
Don’t worry about looking silly doing stretches for flying because many of the other passengers may be stretching in their seats too. And besides, you’ll probably never see these people again.
Here are a few examples of seat stretches:
1. Ankle circles: Lift your feet off the floor. Draw a circle with the toes, circling your feet away from each other at first, then towards each other.
2. Foot “rocks”: Start with your feet flat on the floor. First keep your heels on the floor and point your toes as high as you can. Back to flat on the floor, then keep the balls of the feet on the floor and pick the heels up as high as you can.
3. Knee lifts: Lift one leg at a time, contracting your thigh muscles. Alternate legs and repeat several times.
4. Knee to chest: Bend forward slightly and lift one leg again. Clasp your hands around your knee and hug it to your chest. Hold this stretch for a few seconds. Alternate legs and repeat a few times.
5. Neck rolls and stretches: Roll your head around from side to side and front to back. Clasp your hands behind your head and move your head to one side and your arms to the other.
6. Shoulder roll: Hunch shoulders forward, then up and backward, then down and forward. Reverse directions.
7. Forward flex: With both feet on the floor, slowly bend forward and walk your hands down the front of your legs toward your ankles. Hold for several seconds and sit up slowly.
When you get up for a walk, take the opportunity for some standing stretches:
8. Try touching your toes, or bend with your hands clasped behind you. When you are bending over, raise your hands away from your back to stretch and release your shoulders. Cross one leg over the other and bend over to increase the stretch on each leg. Alternate and repeat.
9. Standing in the back of the plane, try putting your weight on one foot and lifting the other off the floor. Bend your knee as high as you can and use your hands to pull your knee in to your chest.
10. Next try an easy quad stretch. Bend one knee behind you. Hold your ankle and pull gently.
If you do stretches while flying, you’ll feel less fatigued after a long flight, and you’ll have fewer muscle aches and pains. Do a few every hour. You may even feel ready to “hit the ground running”, and you’ll definitely feel better for the start of your vacation.