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In-Flight Exercises to Prevent Stiffness

A man stretches his neck on a flight.

Planning a long journey comes with a great deal of excitement and anticipation! With all of the preparation, it can be easy to forget one key element to landing with optimal energy and health: moving your body. Prioritizing movement while you are onboard your plane will ensure you arrive and enjoy the first day of your trip to the fullest—jet lag aside.

To make sure you’ve got in-flight mobility down, LifeSavvy spoke with Megan Roup, Founder of The Sculpt Society, celebrity fitness trainer, and avid traveler, who shared that sitting still on a flight for hours may cause backaches, swollen feet, neck pain, and anxiety. To avoid these issues, we had Roup recommend some in-flight movements to keep you comfortable.

Why Should You Exercise on a Flight?

Staying mobile while onboard long flights is crucial and will set you up for success as you begin your vacation, or as you return home. According to Roup, sitting still on a flight for hours may cause backaches, swollen feet, neck pain, and anxiety. But exercise—even limited exercise—can help.

Roup highly recommends exercising at the airport before boarding for optimal benefits. You can do a quick 5-20 minute workout that doesn’t require equipment and get your body ready for your travel. Roup specifically recommends checking out The Sculpt Society App (TSS app) for an affordable workout option.

In-Flight Mobility Exercises

The following exercises are designed to mobilize areas of your body that tend to stiffen the most during a long flight—your back, your pelvis and legs, your head and neck, and your ankles. With limited room onboard, following these exercises will increase blood flow and circulation and keep you moving in simple ways while on your flight, whether that be for 45 minutes or several hours.

  • Neck Rolls

Recommended by Roup, this mobility exercise is perfectly doable while seated or while standing in the aisles before and after walking to and from the bathroom.

Slowly find circulation in your neck by circling your ear down towards your shoulder back behind you, and to the other side. Make sure to circle both ways 4-5 times. Open your chest and pull your shoulder blades together while you roll your neck to simultaneously correct slumped posture in your upper spine.

napfun Neck Pillow for Traveling

Keep your neck comfortable as you travel.

  • Seated Figure Four

Often times prolonged sitting while on a long flight creates stiffness in the low back and hips. The seated figure four is the perfect mobility exercise to do while on a plane with limited leg room. The seated figure four is known for stretching the outer hip, glutes, and piriformis, which helps create relief for those experiencing low back pain and hip stiffness.

Simply take your left heel bone and place it on your right thigh bone. If you feel a stretch here, then stop and breathe. For an increased stretch, slowly fold your upper body over your legs. Repeat on the other side.

Apple iPad (9th Generation)

Read a book or watch something while stretching.

  • Standing Side Bend

While you’re standing up to take a break from all of the sitting, Roup recommended a standing side bend to incorporate a more full body stretch into your flight. This mobility exercise is best done in the aisle or near the bathroom to ensure you have enough overhead space and don’t disturb other flyers.

Simply stand with your feet about hips-width distance apart, take your right arm over the top of your left side body, and lean to the right side to stretch through your right low back and obliques. Repeat to the other side.

Soundcore Anker Life Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Tune out the world as you stretch.

  • Ankle Rolls

Rolling your ankles in circles while seated, or standing on one leg at a time will improve circulation around your feet to help prevent swollen feet and ankles.

Recommended by Roup, this simple mobility exercise in combination with drinking plenty of water, and walking around the plane whenever possible will help improve circulation in your body from head to toe.

Copper Fit Unisex Adult Socks

Compression socks can also help with circulation.

To prevent the discomforts commonly associated with long flights, stay mobile before, after, and during your travel. These in-flight mobility exercises are designed to mobilize areas of the body that tend to stiffen the most during a long flight.

Next time you’ve got a trip planned, this might be a way to make your flight suck less.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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