Mile-High Fitness

Recently I visited a faraway land called Wisconsin, and as such I had the pleasure of spending nearly two days in a single week alternating between airplanes and terminals. Inexplicably, no matter how often I fly, I look forward to airplane travel with the same amount of excitement I had when I was 6 and still cute enough for strangers to let me crawl into their laps (or at least drool onto their shoulders in my sleep). But ever since I maxed 50 pounds and grew legs roughly 30 times the length between two airplane seat rows, the overall experience has become less than satisfactory.

And so, in order to avoid the foot-swelling, stress, and cramping that now accompany me during and after a full day of seated travel, I searched for advice from several online fitness experts before my trip. Then I tested and rated it on a 1 – 10 scale for feasibility and success. Here are the results: “Knee flexion involves lifting your knee toward your chest while sitting on your seat with your back against the back rest. Lower your leg, and repeat with the opposite leg. Knee extension involves straightening your leg as far as you can while sitting with your back against the rest.”

You’re supposed to do these exercises “as many times as desired,” and I desired to do them each once. Actually, to be honest, I got through one-half of a knee flex before I felt self-conscious and put my knee back down. The knee extension exercise felt even less productive, because airplane seats are now spaced exactly this far apart: [………………………………………….]
My rating – Feasibility: 5; Success: 2 “Place your heels on the edge of your briefcase,” (that’s right, the team at thinks I’m the kind of person who travels with a briefcase) “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.”

I managed, like, three reps in a “rapid manner” before my neighbor, an elderly woman clutching a copy of the Bible, pushed the “Call Attendant” button and demanded a seat change.
My rating – Feasibility: 10; Success: 1

The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute recommends that airplane passengers stand up and walk down the aisles as much as possible to maintain blood flow in the legs. And then they describe a condition called Deep Vein Thrombosis, which is brought on by sitting for too long and can lead to blood clotting and death.

Yeah, that’s right. Death, folks. That information alone took all of the fun out of the three-hour delay on a certain Midwest state’s runway, where the changing winds forced the air traffic controller to completely rearrange every plane preparing for takeoff. While I would have otherwise reveled in the opportunity to catch up on my favorite reality shows on the seat-back TV screen in front of me, instead I passed the time guzzling water and then crawling over my neighbors every 45 minutes to walk to the bathroom. And guess what? It worked! The day after my flight, my feet remained unswollen, my legs free of soreness, and my mind at ease in the knowledge that I had escaped blood clotting for another day.
My rating: Feasibiliby – 7; Success – 9.5

I never thought I would say this, because it places me squarely at the same level of coolness as the person who claims the bottom bunk and prefers tea cups to the roller coaster, but here it is: for now and forevermore I’ll choose an aisle seat if I can. Sure, I like to sit next to an airplane window and search for crop circles just like everybody else, but that’s a trifle compared to the joy of standing up on a whim and wandering the aisles until the “fasten seatbelts” sign buzzes on. At any rate, it sure beats rapid briefcase shin-lifts.

Mari Zagarins

When Mari isn't running, biking, hiking, or jumping-jacking in and around her home in Montpelier, she is practicing her facial expressions in the mirror and contemplating whether she should learn to swim.