Our 8 Favorite Stretches for Airplane Travel

As we head into the holiday season, millions of Americans are planning to pack their bags and take to the skies.

In 2016, the industry trade group Airlines for America projected that 45.2 million passengers caught flights between December 16 and January 5, a 3.5% increase from 2015. If that climb continues in 2017, this could well be one of the busiest travel seasons on record.

Will you be one of those passengers?

If you are planning to fly home to friends or family this season, it’s time to start getting ready now. And we don’t just mean booking your flights early!

As we head into the unofficial start of airport season, it’s important to remember that there are all sorts of stresses that can come along with traveling by plane, each of which can take a serious toll on your health. Even just sitting in that tiny seat for hours-on-end can put a ton of pressure on your muscles and joints, and put you at risk for developing blood clots in your legs, or deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)!

Taking care of your body when you’re forced to stay in a cramped-up seat is more important than many people realize. Stretching, staying active, and taking care of your body during your flight could mean the difference between getting your winter getaway off to a relaxing start… or suffering through your entire holiday visit feeling stiff, sore, and cranky.

Fortunately, you don’t have to let traveling by plane turn you into a Scrooge! Here are some tried-and-true methods for staying loose and limber on long flights:

While Seated…

There are all sorts of ways that you can check in with your body and stay active throughout your flight, even when the “fasten seatbelts” sign is lit!

  1. Sit up straight
    While it may be tempting to hunker-down, and slouch and curl your way through a flight, you’re not doing your body any favors. Instead, you’ll be better off by extending your spine (which actually helps your organs function better) and doing what you can to engage your core muscles. Lifting your legs off of the seat is one technique to help you engage your core, and may be combined with the following techniques.
  2. Roll your joints
    Take care of your ankles, wrists, and shoulders by gently rolling them with smooth, circular motions throughout the flight. Consider one set to be ten rotations: five clockwise and five counter-clockwise. While it’s less common to develop blood clots in your upper body, shoulder rolls can be particularly effective for keeping the blood flowing there.
  3. Take care of your neck
    We hold so much tension in our necks that it’s a little wild. While seated, you can stretch and care for your neck by very slowly twisting your head from side-to-side in a “no” movement, and then by moving it up and down in a “yes” motion. Keep your shoulders relaxed while you do this and be careful not to twist or roll your neck too hard, as this could cause damage.
  4. Prevent Clots By Working Your Legs
    DVT, as we mentioned, poses a serious threat to flyers. To help minimize your risk for developing blood clots, the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis recommends stretching your hamstrings, the muscles on the back of the thighs. When seated, there are a series of low impact stretches you can perform to take care of your lower body. You may want to consider performing foot pumps by placing your feet flat on the floor, then raising the balls and toes of your feet off the ground, lowering them, and then raising your heels off the ground. As we’ve already mentioned, ankle circles can help prevent you from stiffening up and suffering damage, as can leg raises; either lift your legs off the ground, one at a time, straighten them, and return them to the floor, or slowly raise each of your knees to your chest.

While Standing…

When you can get up and move about the cabin, there are all sorts of brief, impactful stretches you can perform. Just be sure to always listen to your flight attendant about when it’s safe to stand!

  1. Fold in half and hang down
    Standing in a neutral position (legs hip-distance apart), slowly bend at your waist and let yourself hang, shifting your weight naturally toward the balls of your feet. This is a great way to address both your lower back and your hamstrings at the same time!
  2. Stretch your quadriceps
    You may remember this one from gym class. Simply use your right hand to gently grab your right ankle, pulling the leg back so that your knee is pointed down toward the ground (you may need to use your other arm to help steady yourself). Hold this pose for several counts, then gently lower your leg back to the ground and repeat on your left side.
  3. Perform a lateral stretch
    Another elementary school favorite that really works. Starting from a neutral position, stretch your right arm straight up while keeping your left pointed down. Gently bend toward the left side, stretching your right arm over your head so that you feel a lengthening stretch along the right side of your torso. After several counts, come back to center and then repeat the process for your left side.
  4. Take a walk
    After being cooped up in a seat, simply strolling down the aisle will be both physically and psychologically freeing; taking a short walk will help stretch out your body and improve your circulation.

Some Extra Health Tips…

Of course, it’s just as important to take care of yourself before and after your flight as it is while you’re in the air!

  1. Stay hydrated, and moderate your caffeine intake
  2. Eat light before and during your flight; it can be harder to digest big, warm meals in the conditions created by an airplane cabin
  3. Consider your immune system, which may be affected by the large crowds and heavy stresses that naturally come with air travel
  4. Stroll around your terminal and stay active before your flight, since you’ll be so inactive when you’re in the sky
  5. Once you get to your final destination, a few restorative stretches could help get your body back on track – perhaps try some light yoga?

How do you stay healthy during a long flight? What are your holiday health tips? We’d love to hear from you!

And remember, no matter the time of year, your Enrollment Specialists consultant Matt Peebles is here to tackle all things health insurance. If getting coverage is on your list of New Year’s resolutions, drop Enrollment Specialists a line today!

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