Staying Active on a Long Haul Flight

by / Tuesday, 06 December 2016 / Published in Lifestyle, Pilates and Exercise

I’m writing this blog from Sydney in Australia. Yesterday, I had a 27 hour journey to Sydney, consisting of 2 flights, one lasting 12 hours and another lasting 8 hours. Both were night flights, so lights were off and most people were asleep. I managed to get some sleep but most of it I was awake.

We have all heard it is important to keep active on a plane, but why? According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) sitting on a plane for more than 4 hours increases your risk of developing a blood clot. Up to 5% of travellers end up with blood clots.

Planes are pressurised but only to bout 2,500m, not sea level, which presents us with less oxygen. The body responses to this altitude by increasing the amount of platelets in the blood, which help clot the blood and this is why the chance of a blood clot is increased in the air.

Planes also present an environment with less moisture, which can lead to dehydration and too little water in the blood, make it thicker and more prone to blood clots.

Dehydration and low oxygen is important but even more important is the lack of movement. Sitting a long time without moving inhibits circulation, and as the legs are so far from the heart, it is especially important in the legs. Blood can collect in the legs and this can cause platelets to stick together and cause blood clots. This is only worsened by the cramped conditions of economy class (not so much of a problem if you are lucky enough to travel business or first class).

So, what can you do to lessen the chances of a blood clot?

  1. Make sure to drink lots of water. Avoid caffeinated drinks as they are diuretics and will make you pee out the water in your body. Get a big bottle of water in the airport and make sure to finish it on the plane.
  2. Get up every so often. If you drink a lot of water, you are more likely to need the toilet and that is a great excuse to get up and move around.
  3. While you are standing up, you can walk up and down the aisle.

    heel raises

  4. While in the queue for the loo, why not do heel raises. Stand with feet hip width apart and raise your heels coming up onto your tiptoes and then placing heels back down. Keep doing it for a few minutes.
  5. Progress the heel raises to knee raises. If anyone wonders what you are doing, get them to join in.
  6. Stretch the thighs, so you can keep one leg straight and bend the other, bringing your foot to your bum and stretch the front of the thigh. Then swap legs.
  7. Stretch the bum. Keeping one leg straight, bring the knee up to the waist and use your arms to pull the leg in.

    Ankle circles on a plane

  8. While sitting in your seat, you can do ankle circles. Circle them clockwise for 10 reps, then anticlockwise for 10.
  9. Point and flex the feet for 10 reps.
  10. Keeping both feet on the floor with legs bent, straighten the right leg as much as you can, then lower and straighten the leg. Keep alternating.
  11. Stretch the arms up into the air and if there is space draw big circles with the arms.
  12. Sitting up straight, do pelvic tilts. Squeeze in tummy muscles as you tilt the top of the pelvis back and then forwards. If you have been sitting a while, you may start feeling it in your back or hips, so this is great for getting the pelvis moving, stretching out the back.

    Spine twist

  13. Spine twists can be done sitting or standing. Keeping the pelvis facing forward, twist the shoulders to one side as much as you can, back to centre and then all the way to the other side. This is a great way to get the spine rotating and stretching and I’m sure after hours of sitting your spine will thank you for it.

Those are some of the ways to keep the body moving in the air. Of course, don’t forget you can always also use compression socks to help prevent blood clots, but really important to keep moving and drink lots of water.


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