Sitting on cramped airplanes can debilitating. Here are my top 10 remedies for surviving your flight:
1. Exercise hard before getting on. Swim, bike, run, lift weights — do whatever you can before you fly. If possible, use the airplane time for rest and recovery from sports, not work.
2. Hydrate before and during the flight. Drink only water; never alcohol or coffee. Alcohol dehydrates and debilitates. It is an anesthetic with a long post-infusion tail. The alcohol slows metabolism and increases weight gain in three ways: the added calories, the slowed metabolism and the increased desire to eat while drinking. Coffee and tea with caffeine accelerates both heart rate and metabolism, but it adds stress anxiety and stimulates the bowels to move more often — leading to more hunger. So drink plain water; a full glass every hour.
3. Out-of-chair walking, every hour. Book an aisle seat and get up frequently. This movement decreases blood clot risk, diminishes back pain caused by the poor seats and reminds you to exercise. Set your phone alarm to vibrate every hour. The reminder is the key, as it’s easy to be lulled into mindlessness by the airplane’s drone.
4. Five exercises while sitting. Ankle pumps: Do a set of 100 every flight. Posture adjustment: Roll your pelvis forward, suck in your abdominal muscles and set your shoulders behind your hips. Hold the position for a minute. Do this once every 15 minutes. You will be shocked by how often you’re slouching, and this will help you discipline yourself to not do it! Simple biceps curls: Lift your computer (or your book) from the tray table to your chest. Do this 60 times. Repeat every few hours. Push-ups on the hand rests: Push down on the hand rests, lifting your body off the seat. Do this 15 times, every few hours. Shoulder muscle strengthening: Squeeze your shoulder blades together 30 times, and hold them in that position for as long as you can. Suck in your abdominal muscles while you do this exercise.
5. Three exercises when standing in the aisle. Calf raises: See how many you can do before the flight attendant tells you to sit down! Single stance balance: Stand on one leg and count the number of rows on the plane. See how long you can go. Repeat each time you get up. Hip strength: Stand next to your seat, facing forward, and push your leg firmly against the seat. Hold the position for 15 seconds. Try 10, then switch legs.
6. Book hotels with gyms. If you are a frequent executive traveler, book hotels with gyms and pools — and book the gym trainer every day. Put it on your schedule, just like any other business appointment. Best to book early in the morning, before your meetings start. If you book it, you are likely to keep it and much more likely to get a great workout in if you are supervised.
7. Bring your own food. It’s easy to bring healthy fruits, vegetables and even yogurt. If you prepare a meal the night before, make an extra portion and put it into a baggy with a plastic fork. You can control what you eat when you travel if you plan ahead. (If it’s a multi-leg trip, order an extra healthy dinner in the restaurant the night before and have them bag it for you.) Cold shrimp, cut up steak or lean pork works best.
8. Travel with a friend. If your schedules include overlapping free time, organize sports and recreation activities together. Work travel should not be 24 hours of work.
9. Sleep. Sleep without sleeping drugs. Practice meditation and centering down. Use an eye shield and music if it helps you. Use the airplane time to increase your rest time.
10. Think. We tend to fill our hours with conversation, reading, working, and writing, and take too little time to just think. Close your eyes and tap into your most creative self. You are your own best cure.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.