BRIAN PARR’S HEALTH AND FITNESS: Go for a walk when you fly

  • Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 11:54 p.m.

If you travel for work or have vacation plans this summer, that may mean spending time on planes and in airports. It usually also means a lot of sitting, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, you can easily find ways to include physical activity in your air travel plans.

Airports, especially large airports, are built for walking. If time permits, you can easily walk long distances while you wait for your flight. Even if the airport has a train or other transportation between terminals, there is almost always a way to walk.

If you have enough time, you can take a walk around the entire airport, giving you an active way to pass the time. You can always get at least a few minutes of activity by taking a short walk rather than sitting in the gate area waiting for your flight to board.

While airports are designed with exercise in mind, some do encourage walking by posting information about distances between terminals.

Passageways that showcase art, shopping or other information make walking through the airport a more pleasant experience.

Some airports even have dedicated spaces for exercise, and a few have added yoga rooms for travelers to use.

If you are traveling with children, many airports have areas that allow kids to move and play.

Prolonged sitting has health consequences, whether it is done at home, work or on a plane.

There has been some concern about the development on blood clots in the veins in the legs as a result of sitting still on long flights.

This condition is commonly called “economy class syndrome,” since the tight seating makes it challenging to move around.

While the risk of blood clots appears to be low for most people, this concern has made people aware of the importance of moving during flight.

Breaking up sitting, even for short amounts of time, is beneficial. On the plane you can usually get out of your seat and stand up, stretch and walk around a bit.

This is easier if you book an aisle seat. If not, your seat mates will need to stand up to let you out. Far from being an inconvenience, though, they should thank you for giving them a short break from sitting.

While you are seated you can do leg exercises, too. The safety information card at your seat likely has suggestions, but even moving your legs and feet can improve circulation and make you feel better.

The American College of Sports Medicine has a task force on Healthy Air Travel with the mission to educate travelers and airport administrators about ways to encourage activity among travelers.

Over time this should lead to more amenities and greater promotion of walking and other activity at airports.

In the meantime, here are a few simple steps you can take to take advantage of opportunities to move while you travel:

• Book an aisle seat so it is easier for you to get up out of your seat during your flight.

• Walk rather than using motorized transportation and walkways in airports.

• Check out the airport website to find places to walk and other amenities (like a yoga room or play area for kids).

• Wear comfortable shoes – you will be doing a lot of walking!

Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.

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