Exercising in the air

  • TEXT TIM CAPPELMANN
  • PHOTOS KAI NEUNERT

Stiff neck, sore back, heavy legs? You can avoid such discomfort on long flights by doing a few simple exercises at your seat. Five Bayern Munich soccer pros introduce “flyrobic”

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 It’s true: Even soccer players in top condition like ­Thomas Müller and Jérôme Boateng from FC Bayern Munich get swollen feet from sitting on a plane too long – there’s just no getting around the effects of gravity. Sure, there’s more room to move around and more space between the seats in Business Class than in Economy, but even top athletes suffer from the “one-sided position you are forced to take, the right angle at which your knees are bent, the effect of gravity drawing all the blood into your feet – all of which makes it so difficult for your blood to circulate back up again,” explains Dr. Lothar Zell, the head of the medical department at Lufthansa. Blood plasma collects in the lower half of your body and sometimes leaks into the lymph system. The result is familiar to anyone who has ever flown long distances: Your feet swell up and your legs feel heavy. In rare cases, you can even develop a travel-related deep-vein thrombosis.

The antidote is just a touchscreen away: Lufthansa has developed a new video with FC Bayern Munich (see your in-flight entertainment program under “Well-being”) that demonstrates how a few important exercises called flyrobic will increase your well-being on board and help you arrive better rested. Bayern players Javier Martínez, Jérôme Boateng, Thomas Müller, Juan Bernat and ­Rafinha had lots of fun putting together the video, which also features witty commentary by ZDF sports reporter Béla Réthy. “The video is not, nor is it intended as a substitute for going to the gym or doing physical rehabilitation,” says Dr. Zell, “it just introduces a series of short, simple exercises you can do no matter whether you are old or young, athletic or not.”

Rubberneckers sitting | up straight, FC Bayern Munich stars Thomas Müller (left) and Javier Martinez move their heads from side to side. Lufthansa has been the top German club’s Official Airline since 2004

1 Rubberneckers sitting | up straight, FC Bayern Munich stars Thomas Müller (left) and Javier Martinez move their heads from side to side. Lufthansa has been the top German club’s Official Airline since 2004

Reach for the stars | Rafinha shows Juan Bernat how it’s done: He sits tall, stretches his arms, fingers locked, palms facing the ceiling, keeping his shoulders relaxed and his head straight. He pushes upward first to the left, then to the right, before lowering his outstretched arms and pushing forward at chest height

2 Reach for the stars | Rafinha shows Juan Bernat how it’s done: He sits tall, stretches his arms, fingers locked, palms facing the ceiling, keeping his shoulders relaxed and his head straight. He pushes upward first to the left, then to the right, before lowering his outstretched arms and pushing forward at chest height

© Kai Neunert
Cut footloose | Sit on the edge of your seat and stretch your legs out in front of you. Now push against the floor, with your heels down and toes pointing upward. Repeat several times, then rotate each foot separately. This improves your circulation and relaxes your calves

3 Cut footloose | Sit on the edge of your seat and stretch your legs out in front of you. Now push against the floor, with your heels down and toes pointing upward. Repeat several times, then rotate each foot separately. This improves your circulation and relaxes your calves

© Kai Neunert
Something to shrug at | Jérôme Boateng loosens up by sitting upright in his seat and raising both shoulders. He holds them up for a few seconds, breathes out forcefully and drops them again. Then he raises and lowers each shoulder separately. To finish, he rotates each one forwards and backwards individually

4 Something to shrug at | Jérôme Boateng loosens up by sitting upright in his seat and raising both shoulders. He holds them up for a few seconds, breathes out forcefully and drops them again. Then he raises and lowers each shoulder separately. To finish, he rotates each one forwards and backwards individually

© Kai Neunert
Synchronized stretching | Lift your right knee and press against it with your left hand. Hold briefly, relax and do the same with your left knee and right hand

5 Synchronized stretching | Lift your right knee and press against it with your left hand. Hold briefly, relax and do the same with your left knee and right hand

© Kai Neunert
Get a kick out of this | If you exercise regularly, eat well and get enough sleep, flying long distances shouldn’t be a problem for you. Martínez could hardly keep his feet off the ball during our shoot

6 Get a kick out of this | If you exercise regularly, eat well and get enough sleep, flying long distances shouldn’t be a problem for you. Martínez could hardly keep his feet off the ball during our shoot

© Kai Neunert

 Athletes and other airline passengers loosen up from head to toe at their seat, and each exercise only lasts about 20 seconds. “The more repetitions, the better, but once is better than not all all,” says Dr. Zell. His recommendation: at least five exercises every hour on the hour. “This way, you activate different muscle groups, from your neck and throat muscles to those in your shoulder girdle, legs and feet in just two to three minutes.” Müller and his teammates show you how to use counter-pressure and rotation to loosen and stretch your shoulders and legs. They tense their muscles and relax them again – without leaving their seat. Every trip to the lavatory is also a good opportunity to move and stretch.

But what if you’re the type who likes to watch FC Bayern Munich pros run around on the pitch while sitting comfortably in front of your TV munching chips and swigging beer? “If you’re a couch potato at home, you cannot compensate for this on board,” says Dr. Zell. Instead, you should try to incorporate as much natural exercise into your daily routine as you can.


 

Stay fit

Exercising in your seat helps, but you can start preparing for a long flight well before you leave the ground. Five tips for a healthy journey

Lots of sleep, lots of light

“The best way to avoid jet lag is to get sufficient sleep the nights before,” says Dr. Zell. Especially if you’re traveling east, which makes it harder for body and soul to adjust. It’s also a good idea to spend a lot of time outdoors – or at least in rooms that let in plenty of daylight. “Light is not only the strongest indicator of time of day, it also triggers important body functions and is responsible for releasing hormones and other regulatory mechanisms in the body,” the physician explains. If you are going to be somewhere for only two or three days it’s better not to try to adapt to local time at all. Spending time outdoors is also a good way to fight jet lag. If you wake up at 3 am and find you cannot get back to sleep, get up and read, go jogging, take a walk, or swim a couple of laps in the hotel pool. Once again: Going outside is best.

Proper diet

A proper diet is important, too. It’s best to avoid foods that cause flatulence before you fly (like cabbage or legumes), and not just out of respect for your neighbor. “Due to altered pressure conditions in the cabin, your body’s intestinal gases expand,” explains Dr. Zell, “exerting extra pressure on the blood in the lower half of your body and making it more difficult for it to flow back to your heart.” Lufthansa’s in-flight menus have been adapted to reflect these facts. But if you happen to spot a cabbage leaf, don’t panic. It’s quantity that counts.


 

Incorporate natural exercise into your daily routine

Take the stairs instead of the escalator, avoid elevators, and instead of taking the tram, ride a bike or walk when you’re exploring a new city. “Making use of such opportunities will greatly improve your daily exercise quota. If you make a conscious effort to do this, it will definitely have a positive effect on your physical fitness,” says Dr. Zell.

Careful medication

If you take regular medication, you should get medical advice before you fly. Some medications alter coagulation, others need to be taken later or earlier than usual due to time differences. “And to be on the safe side – since a case can occasionally go astray – medication always belongs in your carry-on bag,” says Dr. Zell.

Sufficient Fluids

“Due to the relatively dry air in the cabin, lots of moisture escapes through your breath and your skin,” explains Dr. Zell, “so it’s good to compensate by drinking liquids with little or no carbonation, such as water, fruit juice spritzers and fruit teas.” This will keep you more physically fit and enhance your concentration. Caffeinated or alcoholic beverages should be consumed in moderate amounts – if at all.