You know movement matters. Sitting all day ups your risk of obesity; and people wear Fitbits for a reason: The more you move, the healthier you are. To that extent, if you're reading this, you probably already sweat most days of the week, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and hit your 10,000 steps. But step onto a plane, and rules go out the window. You eat airplane food. You cram in next to two people you don’t know. You stay still for hours on end.
The problem with that: Movement isn’t just a huge part of a healthy lifestyle, it’s a necessary safety measure, too: “When we remain seated in one position for periods of time, our blood flow is impeded,” says Tom Holland M.S., C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist who has traveled the world competing in races. Our leg muscles don't contract, decreasing circulation, which can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—when a blood clot forms, can break loose, and clot somewhere more dangerous, like the lungs, he adds.
Tray tables and seatmates are just the beginning of the obstacles, too. Some research suggests because of all the travel involved with sports, athletes are at a higher risk of DVT. (Dehydration, which can come about because of both fitness and flying, can also increase your chances of DVT.) The American College of Chest Physicians suggests that sitting in a window or middle seat can up your risk of DVT. (Keeping the blood flowing by walking around can lower your risk of clots, but having to ask folks to let you out can keep you in your seat, researchers suggest.) That’s why David Oliver, Olympic bronze medalist and current defending world champion in the 110-meter men’s hurdles always picks an aisle seat: “Being able to get up and down freely is pivotal.” As a professional track and field athlete, he spends much of his time traveling—with May spent totally on the road.
What else matters when it comes to moving around in the air? When the seatbelt sign is turned off, take these tips and exercises to the aisles or stretch it out in your seat.