As I am writing this I am midair somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Hanoi in Vietnam. It is my second longer flight in just a few days and how to prevent getting stiff from all that sitting and speed up recovery is on my mind.
So what can you do to help yourself? My all time favorite is to use the lacrosse ball for the hamstrings and part of the glutes (butt). With all that sitting, blood circulation is compromised, especially in the legs. This creates a lot of stiffness which besides making you move like an old grandma also can have longer lasting effects on your hips and knees. This is due to muscles becoming tight and therefore restricting full extension of the hip and knee, for example being able to straighten the leg completely. If you don’t get this taken care of immediately then pretty soon you can end up with low back pain due to the altered way of moving.
How to avoid all of this stuff? Whenever you can – get up and move a bit extra. It is often said to walk around the cabin as much as you can, but I tend to find this very challenging. Instead I try to add in some squats (and lateral lunges if space permits) every time I get up and go to the bathroom. As a minimum I do 10 squats before and 10 squats after.
When you get back into your seat use the lacrosse ball. You might be able to use a tennis ball but I don’t recommend it as I find it too soft against the seat.
Put the lacrosse ball under one of your hamstrings and then do small, slow movements across the ball with your leg. You can also move your lower leg from side to side and back and forth. There really is no right and wrong here so just try a few different angles and see what works for you. Then after a minute or two move the ball to another area and go through the same procedure. Once you have worked your way through one hamstring move the ball to the next.
I like to do this while watching a movie, and during a 10-12 hour flight I tend to do this at least 4 times. It is a huge help and as you only do small movements with the leg you are not jeopardizing to disturb your fellow passenger, which is a plus.
Of course you can do this on shorter flights too, or actually during any prolonged sitting. I have used this technique during long lectures for instance. Keeping the blood circulation as good as possible in your legs is also very important in preventing blood clots forming. You can read more about that here. I also find that compression socks are a great help. Make sure that you get some good ones that fit you correctly so that they are tight enough but not so tight that they are completely constricting you. You don’t want to feel as if an anaconda is eating its way up your leg! By measuring the width of your calf you should be able to find the right size for you.
The Using the lacrosse ball technique on my hamstrings have really saved me on many long flights so if there is just one thing you should try for your next flight, then try that.
Wishing you happy travel adventures 😉
Here is a motivational video for some more mobility on your next flight.
Air travel health tips from Harvard
“And wouldn’t you like to have the answer to these questions too while we are at it?”
How can I have less back pain?
What can I do to be smarter at work?
What can I do to get more oxygen into my lungs?
What can I do to burn more calories during a day outside of sport?
What can I do to help my digestive organs?
What can I do to help my blood circulation?
What does Ludacris, James Brown, Blue, Elton John, and Bob Marley have to do with this?
What if I told you that all of these questions have the same answer, including making me run 33 marathons? And that it all can be summarized right here by Ludacris in the first 10 seconds of his video:
Yes, that’s right, Ludacris knows what’s up. James Brown was right too when he told us to “get up offa that thing”. According to the book Deskbound there are a lot of reasons why sitting is bad for us, but the top two reasons are
“1. Sitting is an orthopedic disaster and can cause a myriad of body dysfunctions.
2. Sitting means that you are not moving, and being sedentary can have significant negative long-term health impacts.”
The perfect orthopedic storm (click for diagram)
We need to sit less and stand more, and the office is an excellent place to practice this. And if we do sit, we need to sit on the floor like a yogi, or on our knees, or in other positions where we are challenging our mobility, not locked into a hip-glued-stuck at 90 degrees because of excessive sitting. Our homes are an excellent place to practice this “new” way of sitting.
“A standing desk sounds great, but my office won’t supply one, so there is nothing I can do” is the most common comment that I get when this subject arises. Well I happen to disagree with this. First, I do have to say that I think that ALL work places should have the option of a standing desk. It is an investment in their employees health, one that will pay itself back during the long run for sure.
However, lets say that you work in one of these places that will not help you with a full on electric adjustable desk. Get creative and think outside the box! Don’t just give up, it is your health that we are talking about. Give this article to your HR department to give them feedback on what you and your department finds really important, and ask for their help. These days there are also a lot of really easy add-ons to a normal desk that makes it into a standing desk, that are not very expensive. Maybe your office can invest in that? Maybe you can go half-half? Check this out for inexpensive ideas or just google “stand up desk ideas”.
You should also think about the desk or work space you use at home, especially if you have kids. Help them to stay mobile as much as possible, and why not get them a standing desk? The Stand Up Kids Foundation is such a great project, and you should check it out even if you don’t have kids as there is so much useful information there. Listen to the podcast Pursuing Health with Julie Foucher episode #17 where she, Juliet and Kelly Starrett talks about standing vs sitting, and their latest project.
-Ok, so I also would like to have the ability to run 33 marathons in a year, how can I do that?
You automatically burn more calories standing than sitting. If you were to simply stand during normal office hours over the course of a year, you will burn approximately 100 000 extra calories. For a roughly average person running a marathon they would burn about 3300 calories. So, by the simple act of standing while working you have now burnt as many calories as if you had run 33 marathons in a year. Pretty nifty if you ask me!
-How can I have less back pain?
“Workers who used sit-stand desks were 78% more likely to report a pain-free day than those who used regular workstations, according to a Stanford University back pain study. “(A)
-What can I do to help the internal functions of my body?
-What can I do to get more oxygen into my lungs?
-What can I do to help my digestive organs?
Excessive sitting impacts our body’s metabolic system: “Today, our bodies are breaking down from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, depression and the cascade of health ills and everyday malaise that come from what scientists have named sitting disease.”(B) ~ James Levine, MD, PhD
By standing you will improve the amount of oxygen that gets into your body, by not squashing your lungs while sitting, this also improves the blood circulation as it doesn’t get “cut off” from the pressure around your waist and hips. Less pressure around the stomach area and good blood supply also helps our digestive organs function properly.
-What can I do to be smarter?
Our brains work better with well oxygenated blood which it will get from standing, moving and standing up also activates different areas in the brain that makes us “smarter”. (C) The area responsible for movement is for example close to our memory area in the brain. That means that when our movement center gets activated our memory center gets activated too by close proximity. This is why kids will jump up and down while talking for instance as it is then easier for them to find their words. Also, think about it, when you get a very important phone call, will you stand up and pace around or will you sit down? I am 100% sure that you will be standing up.
Is standing at work the total solution for all your health problems? Of course not, that would be too easy unfortunately. It is however a great and super easy way to minimize the damage you are doing to yourself and stopping the process of your hips being completely glued stuck from a sitting position.
Remember to start gradually and wearing flat shoes or preferably none. Maybe you want to start with standing up first thing when you get into the office, and right after lunch for as long as you find comfortable. If you cannot see yourself standing all the time, try to think of it as interrupted sitting. Change does take time, so keep working on it, and try to avoid long stretches of sitting as much as you can. Ladies, if you are wearing heels, you need to take them off while standing, because they throw your hips into an awkward position no matter how fancy they are due to the angle of the heel. Maybe you can have a pair of flat shoes under your desk and just change for your meetings if need be?
Bob Marley tells us to “get up, stand up”, and Elton John says “I’m still standing”. But, amazingly enough Blue summarizes it perfectly with “All rise, all rise – I rest my case”.
I am already on “marathon #5 for this year, where are you? 😉