Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Travelling Fit

Updated: 6 days ago

Welcome to The Physiotherapy Corner! A blog brought to you by Holywood Pilates and Physiotherapy from our little corner of Holywood, Sullivan Place. I am Erin, a Chartered Physiotherapist and it is my hope that reading this blog will inspire and entertain you, give you something to think about, and provide you with some tips and tricks for your health and well-being.


Travelling Fit:

It has been a while for us all, but we can finally think of dusting off the luggage, packing that suitcase and getting on the plane in search of the sun, adventure, and reconnecting with loved ones. If you are lucky enough to be planning on taking a break this summer, and whether you are travelling by plane, train, or automobile, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a few tips and tricks to help you keep active, fit and healthy on your holidays.

Long Journeys: Plane, Train, or Automobile?

If you have a long plane, train, or car journey coming up there are a few things that you need to be aware of. If you have read The Physiotherapy Corner before, you will know that I am always chatting about physical activity and avoiding sedentary behaviours, which can be challenging when travelling. Many musculoskeletal (MSK) issues can be aggravated by immobility, but aside from affecting your physical activity levels and MSK problems, some risks of long journeys can pose a serious threat to your health. I am sure that most people are aware that you are at a greater risk of developing a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis-DVT) when you are sitting in a cramped space for a long period of time. Sounds like typical airplane experience to me! According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance, the incidence for DVT during travel is approximately 1 in 1000; however, after 4 hours of travel this risk increases 2-3 times. Additionally, your risk of developing a DVT will go up depending on personal health and circumstances, click on increased risks and signs and symptoms of a DVT to learn more.

NICE states that "All people undertaking a long journey should be advised to take measures to reduce immobility", which is good advice, but unless you are lucky enough to be travelling first class or have your own private jet, there is often little room to stretch out. I mean, you could get up and do lunges down the aisle of the airplane, I have seen that done before, not by myself.....a friend I know, and unless you are looking to cause a big scene and risk the Sky Marshal kicking you off the airplane, can I suggest some exercises that you are able to complete in your seat?

Completing a few of the exercises, that can be seen further below, every hour can help with aches and pains and can help to prevent a DVT. Of course, you also want to get up from your seat at least once an hour if you are able, and make use of the time waiting for the toilet to really stretch out the legs and arms. I actually book the aisle seat so I am able to get up frequently without disturbing everyone else, plus you can stretch those legs in the aisle while everyone is trapped behind the drinks trolley! If you are travelling by train, the same rules apply.

Road Trip:

If you are travelling by car, it is a good idea to plan your route ahead and factor breaks and pit stops into your travel time. This is extra important for the driver as they are unable to shift position and stretch out the way a passenger may be able to. Stopping every hour and getting out of the car for a short walk and stretch can be really beneficial for your general health, but also to avoid flares of pain that can be aggravated by prolonged postures.

Physical Activity while on Holiday:

Obviously, we go on holiday to get away, relax, and switch off from daily life, and of course that is important and the entire point of taking a break; however, I would urge you to think of your physical activity levels while on holiday. Changes in physical activity levels can have a big impact on the body, whether that be a decrease in physical activity or an increase in physical activity. One easy way to make sure you are meeting your daily physical activity guidelines is to plan an active holiday such as a walking, cycling, or golfing holiday. If you are planning an active holiday, well done you, and please make sure that you are physically prepared to take on the activity that you are doing. For example, if you are planing on hiking the length of the Rockies, but have only climbed to the top of Donard once, your body is going to be in for a major shock. Make sure you are physically prepared for the task at hand! Another option to keep active on holiday is to take advantage of any of the amenities that may be available to you on your holiday, or at your hotel. I'm pretty sure I can see Lorraine in the back there working hard on her tree pose.

Another great way to keep active on holiday is to walk, and if you have read my blog on walking, you will already know the benefits. Often, on holiday, we can actually find ourselves walking more as there are new places to explore, and we tend to drive less. If you are someone who needs to pace their walking, you need to be extra diligent on vacation so that you don't end up overdoing things and paying for it the next day. Remember to take breaks little and often.

Exercises for a Small Space:

There are many exercises that you are able to complete on the airplane, train, or in the car, if you aren't the driver! Simple exercises such as shoulder rolls, pelvic tilts, and neck range of movement exercises can go a long way to prevent aches and pains. See below for a few more exercise that will keep the blood pumping and may help to avoid any detrimental effects of long journeys.

1. Calf Raises:

Place both feet flat on the floor, equal distance apart and sit up straight. Come up onto your tippy toes and squeeze your calf muscles. Lower with control, and repeat.

2. Hip Flexion:

Sit up tall with your back away from the seat and squeeze your tummy muscles. Raise one knee up as high as possible and control it back down, don't use your arms to help or lean back. Repeat 10 times on each leg, or do the exercise for 2 mins.

3. Knee Hugs:

Sit up tall, abdominal muscles engaged, and squeeze one knee at a time into your chest until you feel a stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat a few times on each side.

4. Ankle Pumps:

Paddle your feet up and down!

5. Spine Twist

Sit up tall, cross your arm across your chest and rotate as far as you can to one side and then the other. Repeat several times on each side.

6. Overhead Reach

Sit up tall, reach your arms up and stretch one closer to the ceiling so that you feel a stretch in your side. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on the other side.

Travel Tips:

  1. If you are currently seeing a Physiotherapist make sure that you let them know when you are going on holiday and any activities that you plan on doing. That way you and your Physio can come up with strategies and an exercise programme to help you continue to progress and help you to avoid regression or aggravation of your symptoms.

  2. Make sure your luggage is on wheels and runs smoothly to avoid aggravating any pre-exsiting conditions, or creating a new one, by attempting a PB dead lift mid-airport.

  3. If you are driving, plan your route to include several breaks to stop, get out of the car, stretch out, and go for a short walk.

  4. Make sure you wear comfortable footwear when you are travelling, this is not the time to break in new shoes, wear loose flip flops, or try out your new orthotics.

  5. Make a morning or nightly stroll part of your daily routine.

  6. Try some pool exercises - and if you have a specific condition please ask your Physiotherapist for appropriate pool exercises as the water can be a great place for rehabilitation.

  7. Pack a set of exercise clothes.

  8. Continue your running/walking programme.

  9. Walk in the airport - you will be sitting enough on the plane!

  10. Don't forget your hat and sunscreen.

  11. Stay hydrated, especially on the airplane.

Thanks for taking the time to read The Physiotherapy Corner, and I wish you safe and happy travels and I will be back in a few weeks time for another instalment.


If an injury or disability is preventing you from active travel, consider attending Physiotherapy with us to see how we can help.

Disclaimer: Please note that the opinions expressed above are those of the author and always remember to seek medical advice before starting any new exercise programme.

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