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Rohse 10-3 A prescription for airplane fitness

I hope you will never be so unfortunate as to sit next to me on a long overseas plane flight. Should that happen, I hope you will not be unduly alarmed by my body’s jerks, twists and bends, and fear that I am having a dreadful paroxysm or seizure.

Rather, those gyrations are a prescription for my body to help it adjust to being aloft and “frozen” in confined space for eight hours.

As a result of those exercises, when I deplane I will expect my body to be lithe, limber, relaxed and raring to start a wonderful vacation. And you, sitting there beside me on that flight, composed and seemingly motionless without even so much as deep breathing, upon departing the airport are apt to be debilitated with jet lag for several days.

It is my fitness director that I must thank for this prescription.

Recently, some 14 of us seniors planned a trip which included flights of some eight hours each. One of our group asked our fitness director to hold a “fitness preparation” session to help counter effects of such lengthy flights. So with paper, pencil and interest, we show up and received handouts of diagrammed exercises to do on the plane — followed by actual demonstrations — and advice.

Her advice taught me things about my body that I never knew. My body, she says, isn’t as lazy as I thought it was. She says that our bodies want us to provide action. The more body movement the better because bodies thrive and improve with movement and don’t resent it, as some of us think. She tells us to be kind to our bodies and suggests that we talk to them and let them know we haven’t forgotten them. If one of our knees hurts a little, she says to rub that knee and say to it, “I’m sorry you hurt, but I’ll bet we’ll have it feeling better by tomorrow.”

Then our fitness director, on the floor in front of us, did the exercises that were responsible for those jerks and lurches and bends that concerned you when I sat next to you on that long flight — but were appreciated by my body.

Some of these exercises were to be done on the floor or bed, or with the help of a chair, after we have checked into our hotels, but mostly they were exercises we could do on the plane, and mostly while in our seats. Their disadvantage is that they must be done despite people sitting in close proximity, sometimes on both sides. When one goes into twists, bends, stretches, it is apt to be of concern to seat companions and cause them to wonder what on earth is wrong with the woman sitting next to them.

But we McMinnville travelers very much want to keep our bodies in the best shape possible. So, several hours into our flight, I take from my purse those diagrammed exercises to choose the ones I should do. I opt to try first the Gastroc/Soleus Stretch, although this cannot be done while sitting. Rather, it requires a flat surface — a wall or door. One leans toward the door, stands with one foot back and leg straight, the other leg in front of it, and bent. Lean into the door until stretch is felt in back of back leg. Repeat with other leg. Since this requires leaving my seat and getting into the aisle to search for a flat place, I am then also able to walk up and down the aisle, which our fitness director told us is important to do.

The problem with the exercise is that in that plane there are few flat surfaces — the only one probably being the rest room door. And our fitness director warned, “Do not try this exercise if there is a line up at the rest room.”

But I am in luck. I crane my head to see if people are waiting there at the door and it is clear.

Now there is another hurdle. I must get out of my seat, crowd across passengers between me and the aisle. I stand up and try to move toward the aisle and every time I move my feet, I crunch on the feet of adjacent passengers.

As I profusely apologize, I fall into the lap of a startled passenger when the plane hits rough air. I boost myself up and get to the aisle to start my walk. But ahead of me in the aisle is a beverage cart. I am not tiny. The beverage cart is not tiny. We cannot pass each other in the aisle. Nor can the beverage cart squeeze into a row of seated passengers to let me by, so I must do so — apologizing again for trodding on feet, and pummeling knees. The beverage cart goes past.

I walk the aisle several times and there still is no waiting line at the rest room, so I use its door for my stretch exercise and my body feels better after I have done so. Now since I am here at the restroom and there is still no line, I should make use of it. Our fitness director has prepared us for this, with Kegel exercises.

Back at my seat I begin the exercises which I can do while seated. The first involves tilting or bending one’s head as far as possible, holding it in that position for 10 seconds, and repeating with the other side. My seat passenger looks at me with concern, as if sympathizing with my perhaps stiff neck. Next I do the head-neck exercise, turning my head slowly from side to side, four times per side. The passenger on my other side sneaks a curious glance at me, but I do not interrupt my exercises to explain that I am merely being kind to my body.

Hip lift is next: lifting my leg off the seat as high as possible, ditto each side. Now the other passenger looks sympathetically at me as if I am having a cramp. I finish hip lifts and am ready for the difficult hamstring stretch. Leg space for this is limited but I manage a few and I am sure my body likes them. Our fitness director also has advised us to remember the calves of our legs, where, on long flights, blood tends to “pool.” Massage your calves, she tells us. Perhaps apply lotion. Knead them a bit. The passenger beside me now thinks I have restless leg syndrome.

After the calves, I do a scapular squeeze, flop my legs to both sides, do the axial extension, and twist gently from side to side — all the while to the curious, concerned glances of those at my side.

But I pay no attention to them, because four hours into our flight, my body is telling me it feels fine. Admittedly, it is not always easy to provide this activity that our body requests — but then we need only remind ourselves that we have only one body — and each of us should be quite fond of one’s own.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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