It goes without saying that modern methods of travel — planes, trains, and automobiles — are a hell of a lot better than ye olde horse and buggy days, but convenience has a cost. Many hours of remaining sedentary exact a serious tax on your body. While nothing you do can make a long trip a zero-impact affair, there are some things you can do to mitigate the stresses you put on your physique.
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To figure out how to keep from falling apart in transit, we reached out to Alicia Shay, a coach at the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project, who, in addition to her athletic accomplishments (Two-time NCAA 10,000m champion, USA Olympic Trials 10,000m 4th place finisher, etc.) has a background in Human Biology and Nutrition. The athletes she trains travel the world and are subjected to extremely long flights, often not long before a competition, when they need to be in peak form.
The following are Alicia's tips for getting through extended travel without falling apart.
If you begin a trip totally exhausted your body is going to be more on edge, and any type of inflammation will be magnified. A good prior night of sleep can be the most effective way to combat achy soreness often associated with travelling.
Carrying or dragging heavy luggage or awkwardly situated bags can put an abnormal stress on your body and leave your neck, shoulders, and back feeling tight. Choose luggage that is easy to carry and disperses weight evenly. Also, pack light, carry a couple of smaller bags rather than one heavy load, and avoid heavy handbags and purses.
Compression socks have been shown to improve venous blood flow while at rest, so wearing a pair of tightly fitting compression socks while travelling could help reduce swelling, soreness and stiffness that is often associated with sitting for long periods of time.
One the best ways to keep soreness and fatigue in check while travelling is to simply drink adequate water and eat well balanced meals with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. One of the biggest mistakes travellers make is making unhealthy dietary choices while on the road.
Extra sugar, salt, fat and calories in general will leave your body feeling like garbage and make it more difficult for your body to absorb the additional muscular stresses of travelling. Either plan ahead and pack healthy snacks for your trip, or opt for some of the healthier options that almost all airports now provide.
Sitting for a long time adds strain to your lower back and stiffens your leg muscles. Sitting with poor posture adds even more stress to these areas. Align your back with the back of the seat, let the headrest support your head and neck, keep your shoulders straight without hunching forward and rest both feet on the ground.
Our bodies are designed to move. Sitting for prolonged periods of time will add extra stress to the spine and lower leg muscles. Try to get up and walk and stretch as much as possible. This will help stimulate blood flow and decrease travelling soreness, even if it makes your seatmate hate you.
Once arriving at your destination take some time to stretch and work out any tight areas. We recommend active isolated stretching (see Wharton Performance stretching routine) and followed by foam rolling (see Trigger Point Therapy). Then, if possible get in some light exercise such as walking, biking, swimming, or hit up the hotel gym. Movement in general will help your body loosen up and you will probably have more energy in general if you can get your blood flowing.
An ideal travelling scenario should begin and end with extra sleep to help your body regenerate from the additional muscular stress of travelling as well and any lost sleep while travelling. A majority of muscle and tissue repair occurs during sleep so being mindful of not skimping on your normal sleeping pattern will help decrease post travel fatigue and soreness.
Huge thanks to Alicia Shay of the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project for her time and expertise.