For long flights, movement helps to ease stiff and sore muscles, says Matt Berenc, director of education for the Equinox Fitness Training Institute (EFTI). Booking an aisle seat is the easiest way to make sure you have the freedom to move around. Still, there are some easy, practical stretches you can do while seated.
For your upper back: Seated Rotations With both hands on the left armrest, keep your hips facing forward and your sit bones in the seat as you rotate from your ribs to look over left shoulder. Hold for a few deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
For your hips: Tailor Sit Cross one leg over the other, ankle resting on the knee, and fold your body forward. Switch sides and repeat.
For your lower lumbar spine: Pelvic Tilts While sitting, drop your trunk down as the pelvis tips down and back, then reverse the movement to sit up straight and tilt the pelvis slightly forward while lifting the sternum up and forward. You should feel your weight shift over your hips. Do this 5 to 7 times, says Dana McCaw, the Los Angeles-based creative manager for group fitness at Equinox.
For your neck: Towel Stretch Wrap a small hand towel (McCaw recommends packing one in your carry-on) around your neck, keeping one hand on each side. Pull the towel toward your navel and tilt your head back to create counter resistance. Release, then pull the towel up toward the sky, while letting the neck and head tilt back.
For your calves: Seated Calf Stretch Putting the ball of your foot on the base of the seat in front of you, drive your heel down to create a calf stretch. Switch legs and repeat. At the very least, get up at least once every hour to get a full body stretch by reaching your arms to the sky and slightly leaning back. To boost relaxation, hang in a forward fold to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and relieve tension in your neck, shoulders, and jaw, McCaw says.
Don’t deviate from your everyday diet when you fly. “If you never eat protein bars, why would you all of a sudden eat them when you travel?” says Katzie Guy-Hamilton, New York City-based certified health coach and author of Clean Enough. Instead, pack snacks (or choose on-board options) that fall in line with your regular routine. For her, that means almond butter and a homemade turmeric salt shaker.
If your flight is overnight or during the time you would be sleeping in your destination, Bethany Snodgrass, operations manager at the EFTI, suggests eating foods with sleep-promoting tryptophan. She recommends pumpkin or sunflower seeds, almonds, tart cherries, grapes, cucumber, and goji berries.
Foods high in magnesium, like seaweed, can calm you and improve digestion. Make sure you stay hydrated and get adequate fiber before and after a flight but go easy on leafy greens, which can cause bloat, Guy-Hamilton says.
Once you board, sync your laptop clock and watch with your destination’s time zone. Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles and a member of the Equinox Health Advisory Board, suggests sleeping on the flight only if it’s nighttime at your destination.
Martin’s biggest in-flight tip is to hydrate, since dehydration messes with sleep. Consider a cup of tea. “It’s one of the most comforting and grounding rituals that’s excellent while on flights, in stressful situations at airports, and while in foreign places,” says Guy-Hamilton.
Then, tune into a meditation, like the Headstrong meditations in the Equinox app, to prime your body for sleep. Deep diaphragmatic breathing also helps. To do it, take your right hand to your heart and your left hand to your lower belly. Close your eyes and deeply inhale, feeling the belly expand into your left hand. The deeper the inhale, the more expansion you should feel. Hold the breath for one second and slowly release, feeling the belly flatten and the air move from the back of the throat and slowly out of the mouth. Finally, something to reduce noise (like earplugs or noise canceling headphones) and eye masks are non-negotiables on overnight flights, Martin says.