Traveling can take a toll on the body—especially if it involves a lengthy flight. Jet lag, muscle stiffness, water retention, and dehydration are common complaints, says Paul H. Lilli Jr., M.D., M.P.H. (master of public health), a retired Air Force colonel and member of the Traveling Physician Association. "For a long flight, it's important to prepare your body," says Dr. Lilli. Check out these plane-ride pointers for the next time you're en route to the airport.
Before you go: Try to exercise sometime during the day before you depart or when you reach your destination advises says Ann Marie Miller, M.A., fitness training manager for the New York Sports Clubs in Manhattan. "It's important to keep up with your fitness routine on the day you travel, because exercise relieves stress and helps facilitate sleep."
While you're in the air: "You've got to keep your circulation up on extended flights to prevent stiffness in your muscles. You can do this by either walking, standing, or doing isometric exercises—flying is the perfect time to do them," says Dr. Lilli. "I've even done squats and stretched my upper body in the aisles and galleys," says Miller. "In your seat, change positions as much as possible."
"You can get an entire workout in your seat without calling attention to yourself," agrees David Rosenbaum, a personal trainer for Equinox Sports Clubs in Manhattan. "You're simply squeezing and releasing muscles. Try squeezing a pillow between your legs. Hold that position for ten seconds, and then release—or squeeze your buttocks together and hold that position for ten seconds. Just don't forget to breathe while you're squeezing."
As for your bags, "Travel with luggage on wheels," says Nancy Yumkas, A.T.C., a sports medicine manager for Equinox Sports Clubs in Manhattan. "Carrying heavy luggage down those terminals is simply asking to strain your muscles."
"On long flights, the body often swells, so wear nonrestrictive clothes," advises Dr. Lilli. "Loose-fitting clothing will allow for muscle stretching, whereas tight clothes will restrict circulation." And for your feet, Dr. Lilli suggests bringing slippers to slide your toes into while you're sitting down.
Now Ear This
Everyone knows that awful, blocked-ear feeling when a plane takes off and the air pressure changes. "To make your ears pop, pinch your nose—with your mouth closed—for a few seconds," says Dr. Lilli. "If the blockage doesn't open up a few hours after you're on the ground, you might need to see a doctor."
If you have a cold, he suggests you try not to fly, or this ear pressure problem can feel even worse. "If you must fly when you have a cold, take an antihistamine and decongestant the night before your flight." And for extra relief, "You may also want to spray four of five squirts of a nasal decongestant spray, such as Afrin, in each nostril, and lay your head back before the plane takes off or descends," advises Dr. Lilli.
Say NO to Caffeine and YES to Carbs
"You should always avoid caffeine and alcohol on a plane ride, because they're bound to dehydrate you," says Dr. Lilli. "Hydrating your body before boarding and once in flight will keep you from feeling light-headed or nauseous during your trip." As for food, he recommends "getting plenty of nourishing carbohydrates and staying away from greasy, high-sodium foods."