'Air-obics' in the Air: How to Beat Flight Fatigue

Some airlines are offering exercise and massage to combat travel stress and muscle cramps.
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Hate that horrible cramped-up feeling you get from sitting too long in an airline seat? It's a pretty bad way to get a business trip off to a productive start. While stiff muscles are tough to avoid, considering the lack of personal space, there are some simple things you can do to help your cause.

Some airlines are offering more than sympathy.

Northwest Airlines



Air Jamaica


Air France

each offer a form of "air-obics" on select long-haul flights. Fly business class on

Virgin Atlantic

and a complimentary stress-busting massage is included in the fare.

The "air-obics" programs vary slightly by airline, but each features simple in-seat exercises designed to get the blood flowing after a long flight. On Air Jamaica, flight attendants change into sweats and sneakers prior to landing and lead passengers in stretching exercises set to upbeat music. Air France offers an exercise video set to funky Tahitian music. "It was just what I needed at the end of my long flight from Atlanta to Paris," says Penny Pfaelzer, a Phoenix-based public relations executive. "Doing the stretches definitely had an effect on how I felt when I got off the plane."

Air Jamaica spokeswoman Alyssa Rogers says nearly every passenger on the carrier's flights between London and Jamaica participates in the 10-minute drill that has been offered since the route launched in 1995. Passenger feedback is so good that the carrier plans to offer the regimen on flights to Jamaica from Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Should you find yourself lacking an in-flight coach, do yourself a favor and design your own workout. "The longer you sit in one spot, the more susceptible you are to decreased circulation and increased muscle stiffness, " says Steve Clark, a physical therapist who owns Santa Monica, Calif.-based

Athletic Physical Therapy

. Besides doing one set of 10 of each of the following moves for every hour that you are in your seat, Clark also recommends not drinking alcohol (which dehydrates your body) and drinking plenty of water to lubricate the joints and prevent post-flight stiffness.

In-Flight Exercises:

Ankle rotations:

Pretend there is a pencil attached to the bottom of your foot and write the alphabet with it.

Ankle pumps:

Move your foot up and down as you would if you were pumping the gas pedal up and down on your car.


Tighten your quadriceps, count to 10, then rest for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Do the same thing with your glutes and stomach muscles.

Shoulder shrugs:

Shrug your shoulders back as far as they will go, count to 10 and release. Repeat 10 times.

Neck stretches:

Take your right hand, reach over your head, grab your left ear and pull toward your right shoulder. Repeat on the other side.

Overhead stretches:

Reach up as high as you can with both hands over your head, stretch and hold for 10 seconds.

Wrist rotations:

Rotate your wrists inward 10 times, then outward 10 times. Follow this with 10 fist clenches, make a fist, tighten, then stretch fingers out as far as they will go.

Calf raises:

Walk to the front or back of the plane, hold on to the nearest wall, stand on your toes and raise and lower your body 10 times.

Back stretches:

This is another good one to do biding time in the bathroom line. Bend forward, touch your toes, and hold. Then put both hands on your waist and stretch in the opposite direction.

Stacy H. Small is the senior West Coast editor for Travel Agent magazine. She is also a freelance writer for publications including Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler. At time of publication, Small held no positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Small cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes feedback at