We all sit too much. Numerous independent and governmental studies have confirmed not only the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles but also a slew of associated health risks.
Many people rush to blame leisure time. After all, most people do not watch TV while jogging in place, nor do they pause video games for a round of jumping jacks. In reality, sitting is more of an occupational hazard.
The information economy is booming, and everyone who employs a computer as a primary tool will spend the vast majority of the day seated.
Frequent travelers have even more to worry about. At work, you can stand and take a walk around the office, or use the stairs rather than the elevator. Airlines typically make this type of regular movement impossible, however. We’ve all had flights where turbulence required near-constant sitting. Even during those glorious periods when the seatbelt light turns off, traffic in the aisle from attendants and other passengers makes it inconvenient or impossible to take a five-minute stroll around the cabin.
This can present a serious problem, especially for someone who flies multiple times a month. All that sitting adds up and brings with it the threat of serious consequences for your health.
Thankfully, a few simple stretches can alleviate this problem.
Commit these travel stretches to memory, or print this article to carry, and you can achieve improved comfort on even the longest flights.
The Health Risks of Sitting
Put simply, too much sitting will lead to an early death. Sometimes referred to as the “new smoking”, regular bouts of prolonged sitting can lead to:
- Muscle deterioration
- Weight Gain
- Back and Hip Problems
- Anxiety and Depression
- Heart Disease
- Varicose Veins
- Increased Risk of Cancer
Before you throw all your chairs out the window, keep in mind that the preceding issues only develop over the long term. If you make healthy lifestyle choices, exercise, and move around throughout the day, your office job won’t give you cancer.
There does exist one immediate risk of a prolonged bout of sitting.
Deep vein thrombosis is a dangerous condition that can develop when a person remains seated for many hours at a stretch. For most people, this type of extended sedentariness occurs in exactly one place: an airplane seat.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when blood clots develop in the veins of your leg. What makes DVT particularly terrifying is that the clot can break off and block blood flow to other parts of your body, such as your lungs.
This can lead to a pulmonary embolism, an emergency condition that threatens serious injury or death.
Now that we’ve got your attention about the health risks of in-flight sitting, let’s consider some solutions.
For as serious as the health risks seem, a sequence of simple stretches is all you must do to ensure your safety and comfort throughout long flights.
Best Seated Travel Stretches
It’s easy to perform seated stretches while on a plane. You don’t have to worry about the seatbelt sign, nor about attracting odd looks from your fellow passengers. The best travel stretches you can accomplish while seated include:
Knee Hugs: While seated, pull a knee up to your chest and hug it with both arms. You should then feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes. Does this at least five times with both knees to improve your circulation.
Figure Fours: While seated with a straight back, lift one heel as if to cross your legs. Place the heel on the opposite knee, then apply pressure to the knee you’ve bent. This is another way to stretch your glutes, large muscles especially prone to the dangers of sitting.
Ankle Circles and Leg Extensions: You begin this exercise with both feet on the floor. Lift your left foot up and extend your knee so that your lower leg stretches forward as far as space allows. While extended, flex the foot and point it forward, then turn your ankle in circles. Do several rotations clockwise and counterclockwise. Place your leg down and repeat on the other side.
Foot Pumps: This exercise begins with both feet on the floor, like the previous. Keep the ball of your left foot flat, and lift the heel. Place it down, then keep the heel and ball flat, and lift all your toes. Repeat on the right foot, then make 10 repetitions.
Best Standing Travel Stretches
When the captain turns off the seatbelt sign, you receive expanded options for travel stretches. Don’t worry — we’ll keep it simple so that you don’t distract or annoy your neighbors.
Take a Stroll: If the aisle is clear, one of the best things you can do for your body is a short walk. Simply stand and stroll casually back and forth down the aisle, and return to your seat. This stretches your leg muscles, of course, and also provides an opportunity to reach back and down to stretch your chest and shoulders.
Stretch Your Quads: If you find yourself in line for the bathroom, you can perform an excellent quad stretch. Stand against a wall, lift a leg and bend it at the knee. Grab the front of your ankle, and pull it back so that your heel touches your glutes. Hold this for 20 seconds, then do the other leg.
Squats: This one may feel awkward to do in front of others, so wait until you’ve entered the bathroom. Face the door, then bend your knees until you have your thighs parallel to the floor. Stand up and repeat this stretch eight to 10 times.
Fold Overs: There are additional travel stretches you can perform while in line for the bathroom. Grab opposite elbows, then bend over at the waist. Once bent, continue to hold your elbows, but let everything else go limp. This valuable stretch targets the back muscles that tend to cramp during flights.
If you perform these stretches intermittently throughout long flights, you’ll certainly avoid DVT. You’ll also feel more comfortable, less antsy, and more relaxed when you land. With a little movement, travel doesn’t have to be torturous. One final tip: a little extra room can go a long way, so always make sure to grab an aisle seat.