Easy and Discreet Ways to Stay Limber on a Long Flight

There’s nothing worse than being stuck seated for six-plus hours — except for, of course, how gross you usually feel after the fact. While the flight is usually worth it, no one looks forward to the sore, stiff muscles and dry skin that come with flying.

We’ve compiled a list of tips from experts and frequent fliers alike to help make your long flight more durable and even enjoyable. One of the tips has even proven itself useful to ease flight anxiety (page 14).

Stretch before and after

Woman doing balasana yoga at gym, with focus on hands.

You might not be able to break out the yoga mat at the airport, but it’s good to be limber before boarding a plane. | iStock.com/jacoblund

Sitting for long periods of time (in a less-than-optimal position) can cause various physical ailments: Back pain, joint stiffness, even blood clots if you aren’t careful. Stretching before and after a long flight will keep you from

Albert Matheny, an exercise physiologist, and co-owner of Soho Strength Lab in New York City told Women’s Health about a good routine for pre- and post-flight comfort. Matheny recommends a series of stretches which focus on the hip flexors, pelvis, and back, all designed to loosen up your muscles before sitting still for an extended period of time.
Next: Turns out you should sit farther back than you thought.

Sit toward the back of the plane

The back of the plane has some very real advantages. | iStock

Since most people opt to crowd the front of the plane, in certain situations you’re actually better off going for a seat in the back. While it may be noisier, you have a better chance of ending up with empty seats around you and more space for carry-on storage.

Next: If you have the extra cash, shell out for this seat.

Or pay for Premium

luxury armchair in row of airplane

Compared to coach, upgrading really does feel like this. | vicnt/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re willing to spend the money, buy a premium ticket. The ticket will offer you the amenities that are a step up from the basic economy like plated meals and priority check-in.

Even better for your body, premium seats offer more legroom and larger, comfier seats.

Next: What you eat could set you up for success (or failure).

Choose your meals wisely

Tray table with pretzels and beverage

On some flights you’re lucky to be getting a meal at all. | iStock.com/Legate

To eat the airplane food or not to eat the airplane food — that’s the question on the long flight. As Men’s Health points out, most airline food is full of sodium and preservatives. This is a bad combination if you’ll be sitting in your seat for a long period of time and will generally make you feel uneasy.

Bring your own prepackaged snacks as a healthy alternative that won’t leave you with an upset stomach. Dried fruit, granola bars, and cut veggies are good options that won’t leave a lingering smell in your bag (or on the plane).

Next: Try to resist the in-flight booze.

Same goes for your drinks

an airplane bathroom

Do you really want to spend any more time in here than you have to? | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

We know it’s tempting to take advantage of the airport bar or in-flight alcohol, but booze is one of the worst things you can drink for a long flight. Staying hydrated is the most important thing (and will stop you from bloating) so opt for water with lemon instead of lemon-flavored vodka.

Instead of guzzling down regular water bottles (and needing to hit the bathroom every few hours) try electrolyte-heavy water or sports drinks to keep you hydrated with less liquid.

Next: Prepare for the inevitable.

Prep yourself for jet lag

Depressed traveler waiting at airport, flights delays and cancellations

You will be jetlagged, so it’s best to prepare for it. | NicoElNino/iStock/Getty Images

There may not be a way to prevent the inevitable, but you can prepare for it. Adjust your sleep patterns ahead of time — Travel and Leisure recommends hitting the hay at 4 a.m. or 7 p.m. for the few nights leading up to your flight, depending on what time of day you’ll be flying — and book your flight so that it arrives during the day.

Make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep so you’re well-rested before the flight, as well as in case you have a busy day once you land.

Next: Here’s why you should pack lightly.

Don’t weigh yourself down

Female traveller checking flight departures board.

The last thing you want is to be burdened with a ton of stuff. | iStock.com/kasto80

Packing a convenient carry-on may seem like a tough feat, but it’ll pay off on the flight. If you know you’ll need to check a bag regardless, pack a small backpack with all of your in-flight necessities and check the rest.

If you’ve decided to just go the carry-on route, follow these tips for packing the ultimate, convenient carry-on bag. Don’t weigh yourself down with unnecessary airport purchases like candy, magazines, and duty-free alcohol.

Next: The importance of good quality headphones.

Think about the comfort of your headphones

A good pair of headphones can make all the difference on a flight. | iStock

You’ll have the best chance of falling asleep (and blocking out any screening babies) if you invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. While some of the best ones are a bit pricey, they’re worth it in the long run. Forbes recommends Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones: In addition to being some of the best in sound technology, you can find them for as low as $179 on Amazon.

Next: What you wear can make all the difference.

Dress appropriately

female passenger on smart phone at gate waiting in terminal

It’s important to dress comfortably for a long flight. | VladTeodor/iStock/Getty Images

Think compression socks, comfortable layers, and breathable fabrics like cotton, silk, and linen. Wear compression stockings or socks while flying, especially if you’re pregnant, have a pre-existing medical condition, or are taking an extra long flight.

Compression socks are designed to promote blood circulation and protect against deep vein thrombosis.

Next: You may want to get up once or twice.

Take opportunities to move around

Happy young woman is sitting in the airplane, feel headache

Moving around during the flight can reduce those aches and pains. | RyanKing999/iStock/Getty Images

Matheny recommended a few “maintenance stretches” you can do in-flight to keep your circulation flowing and muscles loose. His in-flight stretches include a few arm exercises and leg extensions that are easy to do in limited space and without getting in your fellow passengers’ ways.

As long as the “fasten seatbelt” sign isn’t glowing and flight attendants aren’t moving throughout the cabin, take the opportunity to stand up and stretch. Post-flight, you’ll be glad you did.

Next: How to avoid catching a common cold.

Try cold-preventing supplements

orange-yellow pills being poured from a bottle in the shape of a C

Vitamin C increases your chances of not getting sick. | Source: iStock

It’s no secret planes are a breeding ground for germs, and the longer you’re isolated with the other 50 plus passengers, the better chance you have of catching whatever cold the sneezing person in row 22 has.

Take vitamin C or multivitamins leading up to your flight and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Bring Zinc cold therapy tablets or lozenges in case you feel yourself getting sick to shorten the duration of the cold.

Neck and lumbar support are crucial

A neck pillow should be a flight necessity. | Trtl

While some people call it a luxury, investing in a neck pillow for a long flight is more of a necessity than anything. They’re easy to find at the airport, but buying one ahead of time or ordering it online is probably the cheaper route to take.

Airplane seats weren’t exactly designed for comfort, so grabbing an extra pillow or sweater to put behind your lower back isn’t a bad idea. Support your spine to avoid the annoying post-flight aches and pains that the C-shaped airplane seats are notorious for.

Next: Our suggestions for falling asleep naturally.

Sleep without medication

Airplane passengers relax during flight

If you’re going to sleep on the plane, try to avoid meds. | CandyBoxImages/iStock/Getty Images

Before you pop the Ambien or melatonin, try a few different tactics to fall asleep on the plane without the medication. While they’re helpful sleep aids, more often than not meds will leave you feeling groggy and confused when you wake up — right in time to arrive at your destination.

Come prepared with an eye mask, download white noise or slow, acoustic music to your phone, and don’t forget the noise-canceling headphones. In fact, a nurse told Business Insider she read accounts of people taking sleeping pills to fly “with horror.” “The risk of getting a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is 1 in around 5,000, and taking medication increases that risk,” she said.

Next: This tactic has cured flight anxiety in the past.


Music and meditation do a lot to make your flight more comfortable. | SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images

Meditating before or during a flight is a great way to relax your body, your muscles, and your mind. Listen to calming music, white noise, or conduct some breathing exercises to help yourself sleep better and ease any anxiety.

In fact, some anxious fliers swear meditation helped to fix their fear of flying.

Next: Show your skin some love, too.

Stay moisturized

Young man applying moisturizer on face

A good moisturizer goes a long way on a flight. | iStock.com/djiledesign

If you haven’t felt the dehydrating effects of flying firsthand, dermatologists offer sensible reasons for why your skin feels so dry after a flight.

“Typically, skin is comfortable when the humidity is between 40 to 70%,” Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a clinical instructor in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told Allure. “Most airplane cabins are at about 20%. That’s less than half of what we are used to.” Tone your skin beforehand and carry a travel-sized moisturizer to use on the plane and afterward.

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