After months of preparation for your overseas expedition -- training on the trail, poring over guidebooks, getting immunizations -- it's finally flight time. You board the plane, stow your pack (or clear plastic bag) and promptly crash out in your seat. Hours later, you wake up feeling as if you've been drugged and worked over by a couple of thugs. What happened? You missed an increasingly crucial piece of the travel-planning puzzle: the long-distance transfer.
According to Back Aviation Solutions, a travel-research firm specializing in flight data, the number of nonstop flights lasting longer than 14 hours increased by 50 percent in the past five years. (The longest flight: an agonizing 18.5 hours from Newark, New Jersey, to Singapore.)
The number of shorter flights -- between six and 12 hours -- is also up nearly 20 percent since 2002. Whatever statistic you go by, an increase in the number of drawn-out flights is bad news for anyone planning to go from the tarmac to the trailhead.
"While flying, your heart and respiratory rates drop, and the air is drier than a desert," says Roy DeHart, M.D., professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Vanderbilt University. "That combination makes you more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections."
And even if you don't contract a virus, your overall performance remains in jeopardy. "You risk suffering a 20 percent decline in performance from travel alone," says Jim Kaese, author of The Athletic-Minded Traveler (SoCal Publishing). "If you're not careful, you'll show up for the active trip of a lifetime with your B- or C-game." How you spend the final hours leading up to your next adventure could mean the difference between epic and excruciating. Here's a first-class plan.
The healthy way to fly: Strategies for head-to-toe wellness
"Sitting for a long time is not something the body likes to do," says New York City–based gym owner David Barton. Barton's in-flight workout, which requires an easily packed, two-foot-long (less than a meter long) resistance band, focuses on muscles close to your core -- the ones least mobile on a long flight.
To work the seat-locked lower body, start with the glute extension: Put your heel in the middle of the band, sit up straight with your arms at your sides, and grip the band's handles. Slowly lift your leg toward your torso, bending at the knee, and then push straight down. "This creates circulation from your hips to your feet," Barton says.
For upper back tightness, try the seated row: Place both feet on the middle of the band and grip the handles. Lean forward 45 degrees from the hip and keep your back straight. Without breaking form, slowly draw back your elbows along your sides while squeezing your shoulder blades together. This contracts muscles around the spine, which get stressed when you are seated for extended periods. On flights longer than five hours, Barton recommends doing ten reps of each exercise at least twice.
Transfer hydration & nutrition
The recirculated air on a plane is filtered with hospital-grade HEPA filters, leaving it bone-dry. The more dehydrated you become, the more likely you are to contract a viral or bacterial infection due to lack of moisture in your mucus membranes.
"At minimum you should be drinking eight ounces of water an hour," advises Amy Joy Lanou, M.D., senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "Take along an empty Nalgene and ask a flight attendant to fill it."
Also, skip the peanuts, pretzels and chips. To combat muscle soreness and boost hydration, pack a plastic container with fruits and vegetables that are crunchy, juicy and high in potassium, such as cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and oranges.
For flights across time zones, David Martin, M.D., marathon trainer for Team USA Track & Field, also practices something he calls gastrointestinal resynchronization. "The stomach works on three meals a day," he says. "In a new time zone, those meals will be mixed-up, so you have to confuse your tummy." To bamboozle your body effectively, eat every hour or two in flight, even if it's just a snack.