Got a long—or even a short—flight on your calendar? Here’s how to bring more movement on board.

By Karen Asp
Updated July 01, 2019
Airplane Exercises: Simple Moves to Combat Stiffness on an Airplane

Flying isn’t just a pain in the neck—it can also be a pain in your entire body. That’s because sitting for extended periods of time, even if your flight is just an hour, can make your body stiff and achy. Worse? “The muscular tightness, stress, and postural problems can last long after you get off the flight,” says Samantha Clayton, vice president of Worldwide Sports Performance and Fitness for Herbalife.

Inflight inactivity can also lead to more dangerous problems caused by reduced circulation, Clayton says, such as blood clots or deep vein thrombosis. And don’t forget that studies point to excessive sitting as being harmful to your health. There are ways to make sitting on an airplane more comfortable, but a little extra movement during that long-haul (or not so long) flight can do a lot to keep you from feeling stiff. Here are six easy airplane exercises to break that inactivity during your flight, no matter what seat you’re stuck in.

Twist it out

Unless you’ve snagged a first-class seat, it may not seem possible to move much while seated—until you consider that you can do some stretching with just a little space. One of the best ones is the spinal twist, according to Dashama Gordon, founder of Pranashama Yoga Institute and the global 30 Day Yoga Challenge.

To do it, cross your right leg over your left leg and place your left hand on your right knee, right hand on the back of the seat. Inhale and lengthen your spine as you rotate your torso to the right. Hold 5 to 10 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.

Say a prayer behind your back

Shoulders and wrists a little achy from carrying luggage? Gordon offers this solution: Sit at the front of your seat. Reaching your arms behind you, hold opposite elbow with opposite hand or if you have the flexibility, place your hands together behind your back fingers facing up and shoulders down and back. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds.

Roll with it

You can roll almost every joint in your body in your seat, starting with your head. Drop your head to your neck and slowly roll to your right shoulder, holding a few seconds before reversing that path and rolling to your left shoulder, Clayton says. Next, roll both shoulders forward in a circular motion; then repeat the roll backwards. Do the same thing with your wrists and ankles.

Take a stroll

Getting up out of your seat regularly and walking up and down the aisle is key to increasing blood flow to your muscles, says Tom Holland, exercise physiologist in Darien, Connecticut, and author of Beat the Gym. Holland has flown around the world to compete in marathons, ultra-marathons, and Ironman triathlons, and suggests aiming to walk it out every 20 to 30 minutes.

Play footsy

Keep the blood flowing to your lower body by moving those feet. Bonus: Your seatmates won’t even notice. Simply tap your toes under the seat in front of you periodically for 30 to 60 seconds at a time, Holland says. Then do calf raises. While seated with your feet on the floor, lift your heels and squeeze your calf muscles, holding for a few seconds before lowering. Do 20 to 25 repetitions every 15 to 30 minutes. (This one is also good for stretching at work.)

Strike a pose

You obviously can’t break out the yoga mat on the plane, but you can move to the back of the plane or exit row (or the aisle if you don’t mind other passengers watching you) and do a few simple standing stretches. For starters, try a standing quad stretch, Gordon says.

Shift your weight to your right leg. Maintaining your balance, draw your left foot behind you to your glute; reach your left hand around to grab your foot and pull it closer to your body. Use your right hand to hold onto a sturdy support on the plane or, if there’s no turbulence, extend it in front of you. Hold 5 to 10 seconds and repeat on the other side. Or do 20 to 25 simple squats at the back of the plane (even in the bathroom), every hour, Holland says.