How Can Flying Affect Fitness?

Written by Charlie

A couple of weeks ago, a study was released by the Mayo Clinic that used 2,223 participants to gauge just how much fitness was negated from sitting (which is what we are doing on airplanes). Obviously, this decrease in fitness or workout benefit extends beyond that of sitting on an airplane and includes any type of long-term sitting. It is not a pleasant thought to think that not doing anything can hurt our hard workouts!

How Sitting Affects Fitness Derived From Activity

The study (as  reported by Runner’s World) showed that, for runners, “each time unit of sitting cancels out 8 percent of your gain from the same amount of running.” That means that if you have a transcontinental flight (say, 5.5 hours) and you ran for an hour before your flight, you will have lost 55% of the fitness gained by that one hour run.

And that percentage is just for an intense workout like running. For activities of less intensity, the loss is at a 16% amount for each hour of sitting. So, while you may have thought that your run each did was actually giving you added benefits, the affects of you sitting all day can actually erode many of those benefits.

That is how Runner’s World and the Mayo study examined it. I can also see a different point of view from the results, however. Let’s say that you have a 10 hour flight. According to the study, you would lose 80% of workout benefits from an hour run on the same day. But, imagine if you did not run at all! That means, your loss of any fitness benefit from whatever in your life would be extreme. If you would lose 160% of your health benefit from a less intense workout, just imagine what it would be for doing nothing.

What To Do About It

Since this study just came out, I obviously did not have the math before but I knew that sitting decreases fitness levels. That is why I always try to get in at least an hour run before a long trip someplace. It not only gets my blood flowing better before sitting for so long, but it also allows my muscles to relax more on a long flight. Both of those are positive benefits! Another benefit is it can help me to sleep better if I got up extra early for the run. 🙂

In addition to trying to get a run in before a long flight, it would also be good to get up throughout the flight to walk around. Even standing for 10-15 minutes every so often can be helpful to your body. This is one advantage flying coach has over business/first – there is no incentive to stay seated the entire flight. 🙂 Just try getting up and moving around to break up the sedentary nature of the flight.

Standup Workstation from

Standup Workstation from

The same holds true for your day-to-day activities. Many people sit at a desk all day. That does not do a lot for your fitness level! Try walking around, even for a couple of minutes, every hour or so. If you can, squeeze a 3 or 4 mile run in at lunch a couple of times a week. Another thing is to explore the option of getting a standup workstation. Some of my friends have these and they actually feel a lot more alert throughout the day and not as tired at night. I even have a couple of friends who have setup their work stations on a treadmill, but your boss may not care for that. 🙂

And, finally, maybe we should be petitioning the airlines to put the seats in that I wrote about recently. It is bound to do more for our loss of fitness than sitting in the seats on airplanes now … 🙂


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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.