How to Stay Loose on Long Flights

Remember the good old days? Back when going to the airport was something you dressed up for, you could fit into your seat without contorting yourself like a circus performer and it was completely reasonable to get to the airport thirty minutes before your flight? Man, it’s almost painful to think about.

stay loose on long flights

Even for someone who is 5’4″ on a good day and of average weight, flights of any length can be a nightmare – especially when you’re used to taking at least 250 steps every hour so your FitBit doesn’t mock you. We’re also in peak summer travel season, when you find yourself on a plane more frequently than during other times of the year.

After a particularly unpleasant trans-Atlantic flight in which my neck got so stiff, I had to have an emergency massage the next day, I vowed never to let myself cramp up like that again.  Here’s what I’ve learned about how to stay loose and active on a long flight.

Book an aisle seat

If you’ve got a choice, book an aisle seat for yourself. Motivating yourself to get up on a plane is hard enough without climbing over two people or worrying about whether you’re going to wake up sleeping guy. Aisle seats make it that much easier for you to get up an walk up and down the aisle.

Flow before and during the flight

Instead of being one of those people who lines up for Group 5 before Group 1 has even been called, kill some pre-boarding time with a few sun salutations. Roll out your travel yoga mat, a towel or even a big sweatshirt and flow through some recommended pre-flight poses. You’ll set the tone for an active flight and get your mind right for facing the stress that can come with a long travel day.

On the flight, your space is a little more limited, true – but there are plenty of yoga poses you can do in the confines of your seat. Try eagle arms and hinging forward to loosen your shoulders, or a simple seated twist. Throw in some deep inhales and exhales, especially if you get jittery during flights. You may feel self-conscious, but hey, at least you won’t have charley-horses all through the flight.

Set a goal to get up once an hour

Set an alarm on your watch for every hour to remind yourself to get up and take a lap. Regularly getting up during a flight has been shown to help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or leg clots. In a nutshell, the deep veins in your legs can only move one way: towards your heart.

If you’re a distance runner, you also might want to break out the compression socks for your flight. These knee-length fashion statements will improve circulation, reduce swelling, and reduce your risk of developing DVT on a flight.

Drink 8 oz of water for every hour you’re in the air

Hopefully I don’t have to remind you not to bring a filled water bottle through airport security, but once you’re through fill your empty water bottle (most airports have several refill stations). Your goal? To drink eight ounces of water for every hour you’re in the air.

It’s especially easy to become dehydrated in the air, thanks to the low humidity levels and dry air, and you want to hit the ground feeling your best. Drinking eight ounces of water an hour has the double benefit of keeping you hydrated and ensuring that you have to get up from your seat to walk to the bathroom every so often.

Bring a lacrosse ball with you

As a strictly carry-on traveler, I balk at the idea of taking a foam roller (even a small one) with me when I travel. A lacrosse ball, however, is completely reasonable and fits in any backpack or purse I store under the seat in front of me.

Self myofascial release (the technique of foam rolling or applying pressure to muscles using a lacrosse ball or tennis ball) is notorious for being the first thing to get tossed from a workout routine (I’m guilty of it too). But, the way I look at it, I have nothing better to do on a plane than use the lacrosse ball for five minutes. Roll out the arches of your feet (just please, wear socks) or perch on the lacrosse ball to massage your hamstrings and glutes. Depending on your torso height and your seat back, you may even be able to use it for your trapezius and neck muscles.

Once you land, get moving

I get that sometimes you have to go straight from a flight to a train or rental car. But, if it’s at all possible, take a detour to baggage claim or through the parking garage to get a few extra steps in and loosen up your legs. Even better? Go for a run when you get to your final destination and use that as a way to get acquainted with the city you’re in.


What are your secret hacks for staying active while on long flights? 

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.