Homepage | Introduction | Parenting Columns | Travel Features | Misc. Musings | Contact | Purchase Info


Dianne Roth doing her fitness routine at 
the Eugene Airport.
Dianne Roth doing her fitness routine at
the Eugene Airport. (#0553)
Dianne Roth works on
arm strength in the airport.
Dianne Roth works on
arm strength in the airport. (#0548)
Amy Lesan does a wall sit 
in the airport.
Amy Lesan does a wall sit
in the airport. (#0556)

Travel Fitness

word count


How To Keep Your Blood Moving As You Travel
by Dianne Roth


Anyone who has ever endured a long flight knows how hard it is on the body. Several years ago, I took an 11 hour flight to Paris from San Francisco. In the cramped space of the plane there seemed to be nothing to do but sit, with an occasional jaunt to the restroom. My new best friend (the man in the seat next to me) and we ended up resting our heads on each other to sleep.

Perhaps, because I fly quite often, friends have made it a point to tell me about people who spend hours on a plane only to drop dead of a blood clot in the terminal. As with all sedentary lifestyles, blood tends to pool in your legs. Blood returning to the heart has to work against gravity to move up the legs. When we are moving about, the muscles massage the veins, helping them push the blood. When we are sitting, veins work alone, blood moves slowly, and clots form. When we get up and race to our next gate, the clot is carried through the vein to the heart or the brain. Sitting still on an airplane for long periods of time is more than not healthy. It is downright dangerous.

As for me, a recent bone scan proved what I feared. I have osteoporosis. I am enrolled in a balance and bone building exercise class. Unfortunately, because of my travels, I have missed a lot of class time. And, in June, I am planning another long flight to France. How could I incorporate exercise into my travels? Since I have a tendency toward twitchiness, I always use early arrival time and lay over time to walk up and down the airport terminal. My pace, towing a carry-on and a backpack of food and art supplies, is about three miles an hour. The shoeshine man in Dallas-Fort Worth watched me coming and going and finally said, “Man, are you still here?” We both laughed. I guess I am a spectacle.

It became a challenge to adapt exercises so that they could be done in a cramped airline seat without totally annoying seat mates.

The first consideration was equipment. No one wants to haul barbells in their carry-on. Most exercises can be done without any special equipment. A few use an exercise band which can be found at sporting goods stores for about $5.00, and can be carried in a pocket. For a real aerobic workout, a small music player loaded with your favorite rhythms and head phones can be used to “dance” the exercises. Just remember how much space you have and be considerate. During the down time in a terminal, you can always find an empty gate and be a bit more aggressive with the routines.

Beth Lambright, Fitness Instructor at LBCC, generously helped design a full body toning that can be done with little or no inconvenience to yourself or your closest neighbor. It can be done in the terminal or in an airline seat. Remember to breathe in before you do the work and out as you release the work. Always stay mindful of your breathing and keep your abdominals (those pesky stomach muscles) engaged. That means “suck ‘em in!”

And, at Lambright’s insistence, get out of your seat at least once every hour. Stand up and stretch, walk up and down the aisle, go to the bathroom, do heel drops. Hold a seat back if you need to, stand on your toes, then drop heavily to your heels. You can even do a few squats in the aisle. Go down, keeping the lower leg as straight as possible, and come up onto the toes. If you are worried about what everyone thinks, don’t. You will never see them again.

It is difficult to get an aerobic workout in an airplane, so walk whenever you have layover time. Start slow to warm up. A brisk half an hour to 45 minutes can mount up to several miles. While waiting for the ticket agent, security, or your lunch, raise up on your toes and drop onto your heels. Stand on one foot, raise the other one as high as you can. Before you begin any new exercise program, have a check up and get the approval of your doctor.

Have fun and fly healthy.

Seat exercises beginning with the feet:

Toe curls: curl toes under, then stretch them up, hold for a count of 5 or 10, do three sets of 10 repetitions

Heel & Toe lifts: stretch up onto the tip of your toes and tighten calves, hold for a count of 5, go down and come up on your heel and tighten shins, remember you are sitting, not standing, hold for another count of 5, do 3 sets of 10

Ankle rotations: lift one leg from the hip with the knee bent and rotate the ankle slowly in large circles, reverse, repeat several times with each foot, write the alphabet or your name in the air with your foot for variations

Wrist rotations: can be done simultaneously with ankle rotations

Knee lifts: lift one knee so the foot is 4-6 inches from the floor, tighten abdominals, hold for a count of 10, repeat with other leg, 3 sets of 10

Thigh flexes: put exercise band under one foot and hold ends with your hands, raise foot about 5 inches off the floor, tighten abdominals, move the foot as far forward as possible, hold, move the foot backward as far as possible, hold, do 10 repetitions with each foot, do 3 sets

Inner thighs: while seated, put exercise band under both feet and hold ends with both hands, tighten abdominals, lift one foot a few inches off the floor, moving from the hip use the side of the foot to push sideways against the band, after 10 repetitions switch feet, do 3 sets

Inner thigh squeeze: roll a magazine into a tube, hold the tube between the knees, squeeze, hold, release, 10 repetitions

Glute (what you are sitting on) stretch: raise one leg, with hands holding your leg below the knee, pull knee toward the chest, breathe out and pull closer, (opt: do ankle rotations) switch legs

Big glute stretch: put the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other leg, gently lean forward with back straight, take a deep breath, release, lean a bit more into the stretch

Back curls: sit up straight and stretch the back, slowly curl over and arch/stretch the back, your arms can go down beside your calves, slowly curl back up to a nice straight stretch, keep shoulders low and abdominals tight throughout, do 10 repetitions

Walking in place: raise and lower legs from the floor in a walking motion, engage abdominals, the higher you get your knees, the more benefit, “walk” for 5 or 10 minutes an hour

Bicep curls: (the big muscle on the front of your upper arm) put the middle of the exercise band under both feet, hold ends of the band with the hands facing up, elbows bent at a right angle, keep elbows close to sides and slowly pull the band up to the shoulder moving only the forearms, 10 repetitions, 3 sets

Tricep curls: (the small muscle on the back of your upper arm) drape the exercise band over the left shoulder, right arm goes behind your back to hold the lower end of the band, left arm bends close to the left ear and holds the upper end of the band, only moving the forearm (elbow to wrist, pull the band up, hold, release, repeat 10 times, switch arms.

Biceps/triceps: with the exercise band around your back, hold ends of the band in each hand, elbows close to your sides, hands facing up, move only the forearm to pull the band away from your chest and return slowly, 10 repetitions, 3 sets (same exercise but turn hand so it faces downward)

Shoulder rolls: raise shoulders to ears, make large circles forward, 10 repetitions, reverse circles, 10 repetitions; variation: put right finger tips onto right shoulder, make big circles with right elbow, switch arms.

Neck rolls: Turn head to right, slowly lower chin toward right shoulder, slowly lower chin to chest, slowly move chin across chest, slowly lift chin toward left shoulder, slowly reverse movement, repeat 5 times

Arm stretches: reach right arm upward stretching from hip to tips of fingers, breathe deeply, relax, repeat with left arm, repeat 3 times Body squeeze: tighten all muscles in your body, toes, gluts, abdominals, neck, arms... hold and release completely, repeat 3 times


Breathe: warmly, deeply, mindfully, joyously, thankfully, lovingly, quietly.....

Even small impact, balance, or effort is good for bones and blood. Wear walking shoes and comfortable clothes. And, may you always experience the sights and sounds, the smells and tastes, the textures and emotions of your travels in health, happiness, and humility. Happy trails.....


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012