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Exercise While Traveling

When was the last time you flew on a commercial jetliner across several time zones and arrived at the airport of your destination fully refreshed and robust? I'd be willing to bet that it hasn't happened very often. Just think about it for a moment. Just getting to the airport (from your home) generally requires you to travel by automobile and the traffic can be bumber-to-bumper on the way. Once there, it's a mad dash with heavy luggage, through the airport to the check-in counter, and the on to the departure gate. Ah, finally, with a little luck (no weather, mechanical, or security problems to delay the arrival and departure of the aircraft), you board the plane.

As you slowly walk down the aisle to the coach section, you see it looming just ahead: the typical airline seats. It looks comfortable enough all right for short plane rides from, say, Los Angeles to Las Vegas. However, for one way or round-trip coast to coast domestic flights, and even longer international flights, a seat in the coach section, after a few hours of sitting, can represent a form just short of The Rack or a bed of nails. The scenario I have just presented regarding air travel can really take its toll and literally makes aching, grouchy bears out of the best of us by the time we reach the final point of destination.

What I propose to do now is offer you some simple suggestions which will give you some relief on your next airplane trip. To begin with, if you are taking one large suitcase with you, pack the contents into two smaller ones instead. This way, you can carry one in each hand, which will in turn distribute the weight equally and thus protect you from neck, arm, and back strain. As you know, it can be a long trek through an airport to make connecting flights. So for the sake of comfort, wear a nice pair of walking shoes which have rubber soles and are shock-absorbent.

To avoid "jet lag," one of the requirements is to sleep on the plane as much as possible when traveling west to east (where you lost time) and to stay awake going east to west, where time zones are gained. Regardless, muscles can cramp and literally ache from lack of use, so I am going to propose some in-flight exercise techniques which will limber up those achy and unused muscles. The exercise techniques will be as unobtrusive as possible, but regardless, don't be concerned at all about the curious stares from passengers sitting in your vicinity.

Ideally, it would be great if you could sit in the middle seat, and with a little luck have no one take the aisle or window seat. Since your chances are remote at best that this will happen, then your next best choice is to take the window seat. From this point, you could do your best imitation for Jake Steinfeld or Richard Simmons and encourage the other passengers in your seating row to follow you through the in-flight exercise techniques.

Regardless, first and foremost when you are seated, be sure that you keep your knees higher than your hips. This can be accomplished by placing your briefcase, etc., under your feet, if there is no footrest built into the back of the seat in front of you. This seemingly little action alone will help relieve pressure and strain on your back, especially in the sciatic nerve area.

In-Flight Exercise and Stretching Techniques

Bend your head as far back as it will go and place your hands across your forehead. Slowly now, bring your head forward while resisting the movement with your hands. Vary this movement by bending your head to the right (laterally) and then to the left (laterally), again resisting with your hands. Repeat several times in each position of flexion.

To relieve tension in this muscle, simply rotate your shoulders forward, then backward, and then finally, shrug them upward toward your ears in an "I don't know" fashion. Repeat several times.

Raise one arm at a time in front of you until the upper arm and elbow are in line with the shoulder joint. The forearm and upper arm should form a 90-degree angle. Now relax the hand and tense the bicep as hard as you can, making it appear very firm and hard. Relax and repeat for numerous repetitions. Do this exercise for each arm.

Close your hands and make a fist. Flex your forearms in a gooseneck position, tense hard, and then suddenly open the fingers and hand and then close. Another option for this muscle group is to squeeze a tennis ball. Repeat until the muscles ache.

A good back-stretching movement is to bring your upper torso down until your chest meets the top of your thighs. Hold for a 2-second count, then return to the start position.

With your hands grasping an imaginary rope just above your head, pull downward, tensing the chest muscles while doing so. Keep the hands close together and pull all the way down to the front of the thighs while keeping the body upright.

For this muscle group, you can perform abdominal suctions. Begin by exhaling all of the air out of your lungs. Now, instead of inhaling more air, simply pull your stomach as high into your rib cage or chest cavity area as possible. Hold for a brief second and relax. Do as many repetitions as you can (without breathing) until your muscles fairly ache. Visualize, if you will, trying to get your abdominal muscles to touch your backbone. For best results, do this movement prior to eating a meal on the plane or an hour or so afterwards.

A very good exercise for toning the inner (adductors) thighs is to make a fist with each hand and place them between the knees and squeeze isometrically for all you are worth for 5 seconds and release. Another option is to use the tennis ball mentioned in the forearm exercise segment.

Calves and Foot Flexibility
To get some needed exercise for the front of the lower leg, place your heels on the edge of your briefcase (with the front of your feet hanging in space so to speak) and raise the front of your feet toward the shins. Do quite a few reps in a rapid manner again until the shin muscles ache. After that, place your toes on the edge of the briefcase (this time with your heels hanging in space) and thrust your heels upward as high as possible until you feel a maximum contraction in the calf. Hold the contraction tightly for a 2-second count and then lower the heels as far down below the edge of the briefcase as possible.

Combo: Shoulders, Arms, and Waist
Stretch your arms high overhead, then bend slowly at the waist from side-to-side like a musician's metronome. An advanced step to this exercise is to put your hands over your head and grasp your elbows with the opposite hand. Bring the chin into the hollow of your neck, and while keeping your body centered, gently stretch to the right and left.

Optional Arm Stretch
Put both of your hands on the seatback directly in front of you (with your arms fully extended) and push isometrically for 5 seconds and release. Ideally, this exercise can only be done if the seat in front of you is vacant.

Final Comments
You must decide the number of consecutive reps, isometric holds, etc., you do for each movement described. You might do 25, 30, to 50 repetitions at 45-minute intervals during the flight. Progress from one muscle group in the order that they are listed rapidly. These exercises will improve your muscle tone and give you a wonderful feeling of fitness.

One you begin to think in terms of in-flight exercise suggestions, with a little ingenuity you'll find an amazing variety of exercises available to use in your personal program of exercise. Give the system of in-flight exercise techniques a trial run. It has great possibilities from which all of us can benefit. No more looking like you were weaned on a dill pickle or death eating crackers when you depart from the plane.

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