How to Stay Loose on Long Flights (7 Simple Exercises)

Airplane seats
Long Haul flights can be really tough on you if you don’t approach them the right way. Here are seven exercises you can do on a plane to loosen up.

Flying can be pretty exciting and pumping, but when you need to travel for long periods of time, it’s altogether a different story.

Long-haul flights can be rough on your body and sitting for hours in the same position can leave your muscles sore and legs numbBut relax – there are simple (yet effective) exercises you can do to keep your body active and your blood flowing throughout your flight.

Before the fligh

While you won’t disembark your flight with a six-pack, these tips and exercises will help make your journey more comfortable.

Before Your Flight

Priming yourself before flying is easier than you think. Here are some of the things you can do before you board the plane:

  • Stroll around the terminal. You’ll be inactive for a while, so stretch your legs if you have the time.
  • Avoid heavy meals. They’ll be difficult to digest in the sky, which may impede your sleep.
  • Wear comfortable clothing. A few breathable layers can help you tackle the changing temperatures between terminal, plan and destination.
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake. Excessive tea or coffee will aggravate dehydration.
  • Wear compression stockings to prevent your ankle from swelling and increase circulation if you are at risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis.

During Your Flight

When you get on your flight seat, make sure you start with the basics: sitting up straight. When you sit up straight, you create more space for your lungs to breathe and make room for your organs to function. With that out of the way, you are ready to approach your journey the right way.

Flying people sitting in a plane

It’s time to utilize these simple exercises to help keep you active:

1. Walking

If you’re allowed to safely move about the cabin, get up for a stroll down the aisle every now and then – to help the blood flow to the lower limbs. You can also do some quick stretches if there’s room at the back of the plane or use the bathroom doors where you won’t disturb other passengers.

Walking around in the plane

Stand with your feet hip wide apart. Raise your arms as high as you can and stretch your body by getting on your tiptoes. Engage your core, but don’t arch your back.

Bend your waist and touch your toes with your hands to stretch your back and legs.

Taking the time to do these standing exercises helps to promote the circulation of blood and lymph (and allow you to stretch your lower back and hamstrings).

2. Knees Up

The American Council on Exercise recommends doing knee lifts to reduce the risk of developing blood clots.

Doing a knee lift to reduce risk of blood clots

Standing the same way as before, bend forward slightly and lift one knee towards your chest, using your hands as support. Hold the position for 15 seconds, and repeat on the other leg. Repeat this 15-20 times for each leg. This exercise will enhance blood flow from your heart to your legs.

3. Shoulder Roll

The shoulders can become very stiff if you don’t exercise them, especially on long plane rides. You can use this exercise to increase blood circulation around your shoulders after a long time of immobility.

Start by hunching your shoulders upward, forward, downward, and backwards in a circular motion. Repeat ten times in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.

4. Foot Pump

It’s easy to keep blood circulating and prevent blood clots forming by doing this ankle exercises. Fortunately, they are easy to do while you are seated.

Keep both heels on the floor and form a circle with your toes with one foot clockwise and the other anti-clockwise. Repeat this in five times.

Letting the foot face skywards

Now alternate. Lay your toes on the floor and let your heels point skywards as if to stretch them. Hold this position for 15 seconds before releasing.

You can do this lower leg stretch as often as you like. It gives the thighs a workout and helps to keep the feet and leg active during throughout your flight.

5. Foot Twirl

Your legs can become swollen and heavy on a long flight. The best way to prevent swollen feet is to move around as much as you can to keep the blood flowing. But if you find yourself in a situation where you have to do everything on your seat, you may feel the odds are stacked against you.

But don’t fret.

A great exercise that you can do to save your leg is the foot twirl. It can help to improve the blood flow and loosen up the main joints in the leg, hips and ankle. What’s more, you don’t need much space to do it.

This is how to do it: Lift both feet off the floor. Slowly rotate them clockwise and then anti-clockwise in five full rotations.  

6. Neck Roll

When you sleep with your head in an awkward position or unsupported in an upright position for a long time, it’s easy to experience neck ache (especially if the plane cabin has cold air flowing through it). If you find yourself in this situation, you can combat it and ease away the tension with the neck roll.

Begin by sitting up straight. Keeping shoulders relaxed, slowly tilt your head down to your right ear. Hold for 15-seconds. Roll neck back and forth, forwards and backwards. Do this five times and repeat for your left ear. Stick to moving your neck to one position at a time and holding it in a calm demeanour.

7. Forward Bend

This exercise is the easiest type of exercise you can do on a plane since you can do it without moving out of your seat drawing attention to yourself.

Bend forward so your chest touches your thighs. Hold for a few seconds and slowly return to an upright position.

Flight board

Perform these exercises, stay hydrated and watch what you eat. You’ll emerge from your flight fresh and ready to take on your destination.

Do you have any tips you have personally used to make, painful, long-haul flights more enjoyable and comfortable?

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  • On long flights I simply HAVE to get up, constantly switch seated positions & stretch.. otherwise I get SO uncomfortable. Your list of exercises is great, and I think I do every single one of these on long flights! Another few stretches I do when I walk to the back on the plane where no one usually is besides the flight attendants are calf stretch holds and placing my hands on the side wall in front of me and stretching my back parallel to the ground.
    Have you ever gone into the yoga room at SFO? It’s great for stretching before a flight if you have extra time! Most of the time there’s just a few people in there sleeping haha.

    • Thanks for the nice words and for the addition to this list of exercises, Nicole. I haven’t been to the SFO yoga room because I didn’t know it exists. Thanks for the recommendation! 🙂

  • Great ideas! I fly tomorrow and will use these tips for sure. The neck roll is great, and also if you tilt your head to the right, use your right hand to hold your left wrist and pull down. Great neck release 🙂

  • Great tips Agness! Ive just booked a trip to Marrakech and Im dreadint he flight (im not a fan of flying!) and getting up to stretch always makes me feel better and less claustrophobic!

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