After his first experience with swollen ankles during a flight, Tory Hale, director of fitness operations for Gold’s Gym, learned his lesson to better prepare his body for air travel.
“I never want that to happen again,” Hale says.
The key to help prevent that is to keep the blood flowing before, during and after flights.
Blood circulation is limited when the body remains in a seated position — especially in a pressurized space — for a long period of time. It can accumulate in the legs, causing blood clots and other health issues.
These are Hale’s recommendations:
Airport fitness: before boarding and during layovers
- Do dynamic stretches, or stretches that involve movement, while you wait. Some examples are:
- Lunges — Try the ones that incorporate arms and lateral movement.
- Squats — See the beginner moves (including deadlifts) that require nothing but bodyweight.
- Arm swings — Start with your arms extended to the sides, and then swing them across the front of your body. Open again and repeat, alternating which arm is above the other with every swing. “You’re doing anything to push the blood through your body,” Hale says. “If you want to add weight, try holding your carry-on bag.”
- If you have enough time before or between flights, look into getting access to an airport fitness center to use gym equipment.
- Drink water as you usually would, but add electrolytes because they will be depleted in the air. Check out the salt tip in our summer guide for an easy way to replenish electrolytes.
Flight fitness: staying healthy while in the air
- Continue to drink water during the flight — a hydrated body helps blood circulate into the organs and muscle tissues. “On average, a human adult burns off about a cup of water per hour they’re in the air,” Hale says.
Chugging plain water can get boring, so he brings vanilla-flavored liquid Stevia (a plant-based, no-calorie sweetener) to add to soda water to make a cream soda-style beverage.
- While seated, focus on maintaining upright posture with your shoulders back. “As soon as you slouch, your lungs compress,” Hale says. “Take deep breaths to open the chest and help oxygenate the blood.”
- On shorter flights, if you plan to remain seated, alternate positions as much as possible to help keep the blood from collecting in your legs and to prevent tension in the lower back that’s caused by muscle tightness. Here are a few small moves to try, if space allows:
- Rest your ankle on the other knee to give your hips a little stretch. Switch sides.
- Reach your foot forward under the seat in front of you, and then do some ankle rolls and point and flex your feet. Switch sides.
- Pull your knee toward your chest for a few seconds, and then bring it back down. Switch sides.
- On longer flights, get up and move around. “I don’t mind the looks I get,” Hale says. “I’ll go to the back of the plane and do some stretches or squats or lunges to get the blood flowing.”
Wearing compression socks will also help push the blood away from the legs to get it flowing to other parts of the body.
Airport fitness: break a sweat after you land
- Skip the escalators and moving sidewalks. Get your heart pumping with a power walk to your baggage claim. Hale says even five to 10 minutes of cardio will help get your blood flow back to normal.
“You’re hydrating the muscles, allowing nutrients to flow to those areas and recover,” he says.
- If you’re not able to break a sweat in the airport, do it in your hotel room before you get ready for bed. The GOLD’S AMP™ app has short workouts that will do the trick.
“It doesn’t have to be a heavy sweat; you just want to feel warm,” Hale says.
Along with returning your circulation to normal, you’re also resetting your internal clock, which will help you avoid jet lag — especially if you’ve traveled between time zones.
Looking for more health and fitness tips for traveling? We’ve got you covered: