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Top 5 Pilates exercises to help you stay sane before and after long-haul flights

Fitness experts from Real Pilates reveal ways to combat Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) during long-distance travel 

Globe trotting off to exciting new countries is top on the list for everyone this summer. However, as any health professional would tell you, an airplane cabin is not a very healthy environment.

Long haul flights, sometimes extending for over 12 hours, are a real challenge for the body. However, Michelle Scott, STOTT PILATES Instructor Trainer at Real Pilates suggests some simple Pilates exercises enroute to ease the stress of long distance travel and the related health risks that come with it.

She said, “There are a whole variety of potential risks when flying- including dehydration, joint swelling, airborne diseases such as colds and more serious concerns such as hearing loss and cardiovascular issues.”

Michelle elaborated that one of the major concerns related to sitting in cramped spaces is increased risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot, usually in the lower leg or thigh. If the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs it can cause serious organ damage and may even be fatal.

Moving during your flight is the best way to minimise risk of DVT. “Staying mobile and active during a long-distance flight can also reduce muscle stiffness and next or backache, improve digestion during the flight and even help reduce the effects of jet lag,” explained Michelle.

Although long haul flights pose the biggest risk in terms of muscular pain, frequent flyers are also likely to suffer due to repeated instances of sitting in cramped spaces with potentially poor posture. Frequent flyers, if crossing time zones, are also more prone to the longer-term effects of jet lag including loss of concentration, irritability and other mood disturbances, excessive fatigue and digestive issues.

Top 5 Pilates moves pre and post long haul air travel

Staying active in a small space can be difficult. Real Pilates recommends a few simple exercises to mobilise the spine such as Spine Stretch Forward, Modified Spine Twist and Modified Side Bend. Moving the shoulder blades through all its movements can help ease neck tension. As well as walking around frequently, Simple Calf Raises and Standing (or seated) Knee Raises will also be useful for maintaining good blood flow.

Pre flight

Standing roll down – Start standing. Nod your chin gently towards your chest and then roll down, as if you are peeling away from a wall behind you. Soften your knees as much as you need to so that you don’t feel discomfort in the lower back. Breathe in at the bottom and then slowly roll back up, from the tailbone to the head. This exercise mobilizes the spine and pelvis, allows for lengthening of the spinal muscles and hip extensors, and engages the abdominals to support the trunk.

Seated Saw – Start seated with arms reaching to the side. Rotate to one side. Look towards your knee and gently round your spine over your leg, roll back up from the tailbone to the head and then rotate back to the start position. Repeat on the other side. This exercise mobilises the spine incorporating rotation and mobilises the shoulder joint

Arm Scissors – Seated or standing in a neutral spine, raise one arm up towards your head and the other down towards your hip, switch. Allow the shoulder blades to glide freely along the ribcage but not shrug up towards your ears. Keep the torso still. This mobilises the shoulder girdle, incorporates all of the core stabilising muscles that will support you during your flight

Lunges – Start with one leg forward and one leg back, a comfortable distance apart so you are able to balance. Bend both knees, lowering towards the floor and press back up. Keep your waistband level the whole time. Gently draw in your abdominals so you are not arching your back. Lunges on the spot will help wake up the muscles of the hip and torso as well as get the blood flowing before a long flight

Walk around as much as you can, take the stairs when possible and if you’re keen (and not shy) do some squats and lunges whilst you’re waiting to board.

During the flight

Spine Stretch Forward– Seated, hands resting on your thighs, gently nod your chin towards your chest and round the spine. Roll back up from the tailbone to the head, one vertebrae at time. Keeps the spine mobile, release back and neck tension

Modified Spine Twist – Cross your arms over your chest. Take a gentle twist to one side, return to the centre. Keep your chin up and your spine neutral. This mobilises the spine in to rotation, ease tension in the back and shoulder girdle

Seated or Standing Calf Raises – Either seated or standing. Press in to the balls of the feet and lift the heels off the floor. Gently lower with control. Mobilise the ankle joint, reduce ankle swelling and minimise risk of DVT

Seated Knee Raises – Start seated in neutral spine; lift one knee towards your chest, allowing the lower back to round slightly and then lower back down. Repeat on the other side.  Mobilize the hip joints, increase blood flow and minimize risk of DVT, maintain abdominal engagement to support the spine.


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