Exercises You Can Do On An Airplane

Simple moves you can do with or without the fasten seatbelt sign.

airplane crowdsYes, you can get some stretching in, even in this tight space. Photo via Shutterstock

More than 5.6 million Americans are expected to travel by air this holiday season, according to AAA. That’s a whole lot of baggage and not a lot of elbow room. Between the long lines at security, the airplane food, and the packed flights (and hopefully not any delays), flying can be miserable. And no matter how many neck pillows you buy, sitting down for a long flight is uncomfortable and terrible for your body.

The combination of less oxygen from the higher altitude, dehydration, and sitting in for an extended period of time can decrease circulation, create tense muscles, and even lead to blood clots. The World Health Organization recommends that travelers stand up as much as possible during flights because the risk of a blood clot doubles if you remain seated for more than four hours. But it isn’t always easy to just get up and walk around on an airplane.

Here are a series of exercises you can do when seated, when standing, and right after your flight to help loosen up the hips, back, and shoulders. And don’t worry, they are much more subtle than the person doing yoga next to you.

When the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign is lit:

1. Neck Rolls

Sit up tall and place your hands on your knees. Nod your chin down, then roll your head to the right, then back and to the left until you’ve completed a full circle. Do 8 to 10 neck rolls in each direction.

2. Upper Trap Stretch

In your seat, place the back of your right hand on the small of your back. Then, turn your head to the left, and look down.  You will feel a deep stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Do up to three to five reps on each side.

3. Seated Cat-Cow

Begin in a tall seated position with your hands on your knees. Bring your upper body towards your lap, rounding your back, shoulders, and neck and hold for one to three seconds. Then lift your chest and your neck, arch your back and hold.  Repeat this 8 to 10 times.

4. Quad Pulses

In your seat, hold your mid-thigh so that your thumbs are against your inner leg. Squeeze your legs so that you can feel them press against your hands, hold for three to five seconds and then release. Repeat this 8 to 10 times.

When the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign is off (do these every 90 minutes):

1. Standing Calf Raises

Stand up and slowly lift your heels off the floor for a three count, and then slowly lower them back down. Repeat this 10 times.

2. Hip Circles

Stand with your feet hip distance apart and place your hands on your hips. Press your hips forward, to the right, then back, and complete a circle. Do 8 to 10 circles in each direction. If there isn’t enough space to do this at your seat, try in when waiting in the bathroom line.

3. Sort-of Side Lunges

Stand with feet a little wider than hip-width, and shift your weight to your right leg, then lightly bend your right knee. Then shift back to the left leg and bend the left knee. Continue alternating 8 to 10 times.

When you get home:

After sitting on the airplane, it’s a good idea to do some light stretches for the hips and the back. Here is a video of some hip exercises: