Mr and Mrs Nutritionist

How to Exercise on a Plane


Why is Exercise Important During Air Travel?How to exercise on a plane

Most people who fly regularly, such as people who travel for business, know the dreaded feeling of being uncomfortably trapped in their seat.  Good news, in this post you will learn how to exercise on a plane so that not only do you protect your health, but also your mental sanity.

But first, why exactly is it so important to our health to exercises on a plane? Primarily because exercise prevents the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a very real threat to your health that can occur when you fly.

Deep Vein Thrombosis is a blood clot or clots that form in deep veins, usually within the leg.  Typically, deep vain thrombosis occurs when you have a medical condition that effects the way your blood clots.  But deep vein thrombosis can also occur when you stay still too long in one position, such as when you are confined to your seat on an airplane.  The most dangerous part of deep vain thrombosis is when the blood clot dislodges it can travel up to your lungs and get stuck, causing blood flow to be blocked.  You should be especially cautious if you are prone to any pre-existing conditions that may make you more prone to get getting a clot.

You have an increased risk of blood clots if any of the following applies to you:

  • Recently been injured or had surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Being overweight/ obese
  • Smoking
  • Heart disease
  • Being older than 60
  • Bowel diseases ex. Chrons disease, ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of deep vein thrombosis

Exercising in the Airport Before Your Flight

Don't sit down before your flight

Do not sit down before your flight!

It is almost comical that most people who are about to fly, where they are required to sit for an extended period of time, use their time in the airport before their flight sitting down.  Because most airlines make you get to the airport 2+ hours before your flight leaves, typically you end up with a lot of time on your hands after you get past security.  One of the best ways to use that time is to stay active.  Staying active doesn’t necessarily mean doing walking lunges up and down the terminal, but instead means staying active by standing, doing some light stretches, and walking around the terminal or perusing some of the shops, if there are any.  Even if you need to do business before your flight, stand up while on the phone or reading emails.  The main goal of your pre flight time period is to stay active.

Which brings us to another point.  When the flight crew start boarding your plane, if you do not need to get on first, such as if you have small children, a medical condition, or need to get something in the overhead compartments, don’t fight to be the first passenger to get on the plane.  Depending on your flight, you are probably going to be sitting for the next few hours at least, so chill out and don’t worry about being the first one to sit down on the plane, use those extra 10-15 minutes to relax and do a few stretches while everyone else is running over each other to get on first.

Exercising in Your Seat

Once you are finally stuck in your seat, it doesn’t usually take long before your backside is asleep.  Although it may not seem possible, there are a few different movements you can do in your seat (without elbowing you fellow passengers in the face) that can get your blood pumping and your circulation going.

  1. Drawing the alphabet– This move is done one leg at a time.  Pick one foot up so it is slightly off the ground, point your toes and and pretend to draw each letter of the alphabet in the air using your toes.  Then repeat with your other leg.
  2. Neck rolls– For this movement move your head in circular motions, then repeat going in the opposite direction. 
  3. Backside clenching– Clench your glutes, hold the clench for 10 seconds.  Repeat as often as needed.  This exercise is great to wake up your backside when it has gone numb!  
  4. Marching legs Plant your feet on the floor, lift one leg up and down and then move your other leg up and down, just like you are doing a march (admittedly this exercise only works if your knees don’t touch the seat in front of you).


The Back of the Plane is Your Best Friend

One of the best places to get some breathing room is at the back of the plane or in the middle of the plane near the galleys.  If it is not too busy try some of these exercises:

  1. Quad stretches-  Grab something to hold on to, then grab one of your ankles and pull it towards the small of your back so that you are stretching the front of your leg (your quadricep), hold for 10 seconds.  Repeat with your opposite leg.
  2. Calf raises- Shift your weight onto your toes and push up so your are on your tip toes, hold for 2 seconds, lower you feet flat back on the ground and repeat.
  3. Touch your toes– Simply bend down and touch your toes (or try and touch them).  Hold the position for at least 10 seconds.
  4. Torso twists– Twist your torso from side to side, while tucking your arms into your sides.

Exercising in the Lavatory

Since the lavatory is the only place that you truly have 100% privacy on a plane, it naturally is the only place to do any exercises that might be considered a little more risqué.

  1. Squats over the toilet– One of the best exercises to do in the lavatory to wake up your lower body is by doing squats.  You want to face away from the toilet like you are about to sit down, squat down like you are about to sit but before you actually sit on the toilet you are going to stand back up.  Repeat as many times as needed before you feel like you have your blood pumping (depending on the number of people in line for the lavatory behind you of course!).
  2. The Rocky– A great way to wake up your upper body is to throw a few air punches while looking at the mirror, pretend to be a boxer or action hero (imagination is required here!).The Rocky

The Aisle is Your Runway

When all else fails, and you find no matter how many stretches or squats you do you still feel jittery, walk the aisles.  Granted, this can be difficult since they are so narrow or filled with people and food carts.  One of the best ways to walk the aisle is to walk to the bathroom that is furthest away from you, so if you are in the back, use the furthest forward bathroom you can, and if you are sitting in the front use the bathrooms in the back of the plane.

Too many people feel embarrassed about doing exercises and stretches on a plane, but that shouldn’t be the case.  Your health is worth it, so don’t feel self conscious and stretch those legs!The aisle is your runway

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think of these solutions for exercising on a plane.  If you enjoyed this article feel free to share with your friends/ family via social media!


References: (2016). Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) Risk factors – Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2016].

photo credit: <a href=”″>Young, wired and living life on the digital edge — meet the Millennials.</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href=”″>DSC_4278.jpg</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a> *this photo was edited*


  1. Brad

    Over the last 20 years I have literally flown on thousands of flights and never once considered doing exercises on the plane. The idea is great although I would have to get over being self-conscious. Perhaps the lavatory and seat based exercises would be a good place to start. I also like the idea of not rushing to get on the plane especially on days when I am not using a carry-on.

    1. Maggie (Post author)

      Hi Brad,

      I agree, it can be a little intimidating at first to start doing exercises in front of hundreds of strangers. I think you make a fair point, and starting off with exercises in your seat and lavatory would be a good start. You must have wracked up a lot of air miles over the years! Let me know if you feel better after flying when trying some of these exercises, it’s never too late to start. Safe travels.



  2. Wes

    Great post, I learned a lot!

    I fly so much and I never knew the importance of positioning and exercising. I am the type of person who loves sitting in the front and falling asleep so I don’t do ANY of the things I should be doing haha. Will be mindful next time. Thanks!

    1. Maggie (Post author)

      Hi Wes,

      Firstly, thank you very much for your comment. I am happy to hear that you have learned something, and are able to apply these exercise and new information on your next flight. You are one of the lucky few who seem to be able to sleep on a plane, which I suppose has its pros and cons as far as your health is concerned! Maybe on your next flight you can set a reminder/alarm on your phone so that you wake up every so often and do some exercises. Happy travels!



  3. Rebekah

    This is a great article. I was actually on a plane from California to Connecticut for Christmas, and I had just finished taking a blood thinner for clots I had a year ago. I found myself feeling like I really wanted to get up and move around, and it would have been great to have the list of exercises from this article for motivation. I was traveling with my infant son, and I found that it actually helped to hold him while I was doing some leg exercises for the extra weight. It felt like a real workout!
    It would be great to hear your thoughts on airplane food to go with this article. To what extent would you rely on getting food at the airport or on the plane? Or, would you recommend bringing your own food from home?
    I also really appreciate the references at the bottom. Very professional.
    Thanks for the information! I’m looking forward to more posts.

    1. Maggie (Post author)

      Hi Rebekah,

      Thank you so much for your post. That is a very long journey from the west coast to the east coast, having done it many times myself I know how difficult it can be, and how you just feel the urge to get up and move around. That is a shame you did not have the exercise list with you when you flew for Christmas, but you will be well equipped for your next flight!
      That is a really good question about airplane food and eating healthy while traveling, and we will be doing a post in the near future on that very topic! However, depending on the duration and destination ie. international or domestic I find the best combination is to usually bring some food from home and buy some food and liquids at the airport. It can be really difficult to eat well, especially when flying, so we will do our best to make our upcoming post as helpful as possible for those who want to stay healthy while flying. Thank you for your comment!



  4. Lucy

    I was recently in a long haul flight and was surprised by the number of people walking up and down the plane a lot if them were quite elderly whlie the younger ones chose to sit and watch films. I love the idea of excercising in a reduced/confined space and will certainly try these on my next flight as well as the desk excercises.

    1. Maggie (Post author)

      Hi Lucy,

      Thank you for your comment. I have also noticed that on long haul flights it usually is the older people who exercise more often than the younger passengers, maybe they are more aware of the dangers of sitting too long and and or may also be on certain medications that make them more prone to clotting. Good luck with the exercises on your next flight and at your desk, let us know how they go and if you feel better with them!




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