Sitting inside of a flying tube for hours can lead to some effects on our bodies. We’re dealing with a higher cabin altitude.The oxygen and humidity levels are lower. The amount of good rest you can have is suboptimal. Usually the amount of movement you can perform inside an aeroplane is limited. And you’ll have to often deal with jet lag. What consequences can this all lead to? And how does exercise impact all of that?
What does the evidence say?
Due to variables mentioned in the introduction, flying can have some negative effects on our body. Let’s take a look at three studies where they have measured the effects of flying on the human body. And what exercise can do with that.
Study #1 (deep vein thrombosis)
According to an older study (1), the chances of getting deep vein thrombosis is increased up to 2 weeks post flying. Deep vein thrombosis occurs when blood clots develop in the deep veins of the leg and can happen at any time when the blood can’t move through the vessels properly, such as after sitting in a airline seat for hours at a time without moving. According to a more accurate and more recent study(1), the chances of getting deep vein thrombosis as a result of flying is very small. 1 out of 2 million travelers would be at risk of getting severe outcomes due to post flight deep vein thrombosis. A person’s individual risk of suffering from a clot is higher if they have certain medical conditions that increase the risk of clots, such as:
- Varicose veins
- A history of leg clots
- Recent leg or pelvic surgery or a leg injury
- Pregnant woman
- Overweight individuals
The researchers suggest that you can lower your chances of deep vein thrombosis by:
- Having a general active lifestyle
- Exercise regularly
- staying active on the plane i.e. stand up and walk frequently during long flights.
- Stretching the legs and ankles frequently while seated in an airplane
- Drinking plenty of water
- Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight
Study #2 (oxygen saturation levels in the blood)
Another study (2) has shown that due to the lack of cabin pressure in the airplane, the body’s ability to consume oxygen is reduced. Leading to lower O2 saturation in the bloodstream. Lower O2 saturation can have a negative impact on our performance. During this study they tested two groups. Both took a long haul flight. One group did some exercise immediately post flying, whilst the other group didn’t exercise. Every hour they would compare oxygen saturation levels in the blood. The results were that the group that performed exercise post flying restored their oxygen saturation levels to baseline immediately during activity, whilst the oxygen saturation levels of the group that didn’t exercise remained lower until 36 hours post flight. It then slowly increased, reaching baseline after 48 hours.
Study #3 (Exercise effect on jet lag)
In 1996, a study(3) from Japan observed flight attendants traveling from Tokyo to Los Angeles (an eight-hour time difference). They’ve split the crew into two groups. One group performed outdoor exercise directly post flying for a couple of hours, while the other group didn’t perform any exercise. Monitoring they’re sleep-wake pattern pre and post flight, they concluded that outdoor exercise cut jet lag recovery time from four days to three.
The answer to the question “is it safe to exercise post flying” is simply; Yes! The evidence actually suggests that exercising post flying has long term health benefits.
Exercising post flying (and in general):
- reduces chances of deep vein thrombosis
- directly raises saturated oxygen levels in the blood back to baseline.
- Reduces jet lag recovery time
There’s no evidence to suggest that there are negative side effects to exercising post flying. Just make sure to auto-regulate your training. If you’re feeling a little bit weaker after a flight (which doesn’t always have to be the case), make sure to reduce your training intensity to match your current energy levels. More about auto-regulation please read: http://www.globallifter.com/articles/rpe-why-and-how-to-use-it/.