Get your exercise on the aircraft

Investment continues in Namibia despite global economic uncertainty
August 6, 2012
The roadside pod ladies
August 6, 2012
Investment continues in Namibia despite global economic uncertainty
August 6, 2012
The roadside pod ladies
August 6, 2012

Text Jackie Marie

Sketch Norman Begley


I am a middle-aged veteran of long journeys by air, and have read much about the need for exercise on the long-haul airplane flights. They tell us that blood circulation issues can be a problem on long flights in cramped spaces. My first reaction when I began seeing this on the pre-flight safety preparation video was to nod and laugh. I’ve known it all along!

Swirling my ankles every now and then and doing leg lifts to flex my thighs, and just walking to the toilet at least twice on an 8–10 hour flight is a must! I’ve done this for years just to break the monotony of the long flight. I have a problem sleeping on planes, even on night flights, so the hours really do drag by on long rides.

After even the smallest amount of exercise, I feel the difference. I guess my blood gets to flow better. I feel less ‘tight’ when I have walked around a bit or swirled my legs or flexed my toes up and down. I like to turn my body at the waist, looking one direction and then another, but that sometimes freaks the nearby passengers out, so I save that one for when I am on a semi-empty flight.

Back in the old days, they used to discourage this kind of movement around the plane, wanting everyone to stay in their seats with the seatbelt fastened. Now, they encourage the seat exercises and even give examples of how to do them.

I remember in the old days telling the check-in clerk that I wanted a ‘non-smoking, window seat.’ That’s practically ancient now, as all air flights are non-smoking. Things really have changed for the better. Cigarette smoke on an airplane, just like in a closed elevator, used to make my stomach turn.

The old aircraft had seats where you could lift the arm up and stretch a bit if there was no occupant in the middle seat, or if you were two people travelling together sitting side by side. I miss that feature. Now, with the individual screens and the tray table that is in the arm of the seat, there is no such thing as lifting up that middle arm!

I challenge anyone to deny an Olympic bronze medal to a woman who can change two babies’ diapers in that small, cramped airplane bathroom

For those of us ‘Junoesque’ ladies travelling together as a family (accompanied by our hips and bellies), being able to lift that arm was a blessing. At least one inch of fat could ooze into the middle seat while doing so. You could even sleep at a more comfortable angle when you lifted up the arms between the seats.

Now we have to suck our bellies in and suffer! Imagine the exercise involved in squeezing your size-20 behind into a size-14 seat and holding your stomach in for hours with the seat belt buckled. Eight/nine hours of stomach muscle Pilates or yoga is serious exercise!

I remember travelling with my young children for long distances from our diplomatic post in Ethiopia to New York or from Washington DC via Frankfurt to Windhoek in Namibia. This is serious travel, and when you have to do it with babies and toddlers, it is a Herculean task. Imagine the mythologists adding the 13th task to the 12 Labours of Heracles as ‘Travel for 27 hours (including layovers) with no sleep, an insomniac 11-month old, a vibrant and talkative three-year-old and a petulant, sleepless five-year-old old’. That was what I had to contend with in the days when I still had the energy.

I challenge anyone to deny an Olympic bronze medal to a woman who can change two babies’ diapers in that small, cramped airplane bathroom, balancing one on the closed toilet seat and sitting the other on the sink, then quickly (people are usually waiting) cleaning up the kids, herself and the entire toilet area. Tell me that is not exercise!

I certainly got exercise in those days when I had to chase a child down the aisle, carry a heavy child in my arms for hours, reach across kids stretching my back every few minutes when I had to give a toy, pick one up off the floor, clean up something or soothe a crying fit.

God Bless the inventor of Game Boy, children’s books on tape and Etch a Sketch. Thank Goodness for ‘good ole’ crayons and paper! Travelling parents can now have a small break. The joy continues with the modern ipods, MP3 players, laptops, and video games that can be played right on the screen of the in-flight monitor! Nowadays these things can be used once the plane is in the air.

Standing in line waiting for the icon light over the toilet to read ‘green’ can also be exercise. The plane often rocks and jolts as you are standing there waiting. This can make you tighten up your body muscles in an effort to stop yourself from falling into someone’s lap.

If there is turbulence while you’re in line or actually in the toilet, there is really a chance for an aerobic session! I know my heart rate is really high by the time I get back to my seat when there have been those rough dips and pitches that sometimes happen in flight.

Long-haul travel is a trial, but with the required body exercise, books that are now on ipads and kindles as well as the old fashioned method, music on any number of mechanisms and, of course, should you be so lucky as to travel with a companion, you can endure the food and let time pass quickly until you reach your destination.

Have a good flight!

This article appeared in the January’12 Edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.

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