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5 ways to beat post-Thanksgiving bloat while traveling

Dec. 01, 2019
5 min read
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Tis’ the season for traveling. We all know that making it from A to B can be frustrating, but you should also keep in mind that traveling can do damage to our bodies.

With long flights & car rides, there is a risk of ailments like deep-vein thrombosis and general aches and pains. There are also injuries from lifting heavy objects — and luggage fits into that category.

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If you are going to stand in an airport and wait or spend a long stretch of time in a car, turn it into an exercise session. Here's how to beat the post-Thanksgiving body blues in various situations you may encounter while on the road.

Put down those heavy bags

Be smart and put down heavy items. When security lines move, turn it into an opportunity to squat to lift the weight to move, or a straight leg move to slide your items forward and exercise the hip musculature. Your future is prolonged sitting, so why not work out your muscles before you are stuck in your airplane seat?

Mind your posture

Correct your posture, pull your abdominals in and stand equally on both feet, contracting the quads. I see people standing with their backpack or bag on one shoulder, and their hip jutting out to the side as they bear all of that weight on one side of the body. It's not great for the low back or the shoulder girdle because you are compressing one side of the body. People also slouch as they wait so again, stand upright and use your own musculature to hold yourself erect.

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Exercise in place

Movement helps with circulation. It forces you to contract and relax your muscles so that any fluids do not get stagnant and gives you a little exercise at the same time.

Seated exercises like ankle circles/pumps, knee extension (straightening the knees), and glute squeezes can help pump the muscles and give them a little workout at the same time. If you hold them for at least 10 seconds, you'll really get the mini-workout component.

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You can also do upper body stretches in your seat. To work your triceps, bring the arm overhead, bend the elbow and then pull the elbow to the side. For the back of the shoulder, bring the arm across the body and pull it with the other arm. Work the abdominals by reaching both arms straight overhead and stretch up and back. Any sort of movement is better than none so these are easy to do without infringing on your seatmate's space.

When driving for long periods, set the car on cruise control and do some toe curls/splay stretching, ankle pumps/circles, glute squeezes, and abdominal bracing. However, use caution as attention should be paid to driving and not the exercises.

Walk it off

Getting up and walking around the airport or plane is a smart move as sitting for prolonged periods is not great for the back. This allows you to move and get a stretch in the legs. You can stretch the quads (bend the foot back to the butt) and the calves (stand one foot in front of the other to feel the stretch in the back of the lower leg) while you are waiting for your flight or the plane bathroom.

Just like with sitting at a computer, it is recommended to stop and get out of the car or walk around the plane every hour. Do 10 backward bends by placing hands on the hips and move the head and shoulders backward behind the pelvis to counteract poor sitting posture.

Stretch out

Try not to sit with your legs tucked under you or up on the seat. It squishes the soft tissue in the knee/hip area and shortens the muscles. When you unfold, you will feel very stiff from positioning that way for a long period of time. It can also compress the blood vessels and nerve so that you get pins/needles/tingling that is uncomfortable.

Anytime you can position the body into a good upright position it's great because nearly everyone sits with poor posture. Isometric holds (static contraction with long hold times) allow for people to pump the muscles without needing much space. It brings energy into an area that is otherwise dormant from prolonged posturing. It also kills time during your travel!

Dr. Karena Wu is a physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC & India.

Featured image by (Illustration by MCKIBILLO)