fitness · traveling

Airports, travel, and fitness

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately and spending more time than I like in airports. Tracy has written about staying active on vacation here and here. My topic is instead being active on travel days when your goal is getting from point A to point B.

I joke that some of my best workouts have been in airports. (Okay, not really but there have been trips it feels that way.) I think the best was my Heathrow 5 km in which against all odds another traveler and I made our connection home to Canada by running fast for about half an hour between terminals. The flight attendants were very impressed. ‘We can’t believe you made it.’ I think it was a PB for me.

Over the years I’ve listened to lots of fellow frequent travelers lament the lack of airport fitness centers. But I think they’re too much in the compartmentalizer mode. (I’ve written about the distinction between integrationists and compartmentalizers here.)

Once you start thinking about integrating exercise into your trip, things get better.

Here’s some advice based on some of the things I do to get a bit of a workout while traveling.

First, never sit at the gate waiting to board your plane, if you can physically help it. You’re going to be sitting in a plane for hours. Don’t sit now if you don’t have to. Walk, stand, stretch, anything but sit.

Second, don’t check bags and for added strength points, don’t use a suitcase with wheels. I have a terrific backpack that fits everything I need for traveling and I like the workout that comes from carrying that in the airport. I have the view that you shouldn’t travel with more than you can easily carry yourself. It’s a bit of an independence point. Bonus, if you end up somewhere with cobble stones or lots of stairs. You’ll have a much easier time than the folks with wheels.

Third, avoid the conveyances designed to move people around airports. You know, moving sidewalks, trams, escalators and the like. Walk fast from place to place. Take the stairs. Once you start doing this you’ll meet others with a similar disposition. And it’s amazing how much faster it is.

It’s fine to use all these things if you don’t want a workout but don’t use them and then complain there isn’t an airport fitness centre. I hate that we carefully engineer all the exercise out of our lives and than frantically work to add it back in again.

Of course, my approach means wearing good shoes for the day of travel and clothes you can move fast comfortably in.

I’ve also been experimenting with eating less, quite a bit less, on the days I fly. Some people think it’s key to help with jet lag. Me, I struggle with finding food at airports but then gradually realized it’s not like I’m doing anything particular demanding on the plane. See my post Hunger and Nutrition to read about my experiments with eating less, getting hungry, and realizing the world won’t end.

Finally, sleep (or work) on the plane. If you’re going to be sitting you should put that sitting time to good use.

Happy travels!

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More reading:
How to Beat Jet Lag (Globe and Mail)
The Empty Stomach: Fasting to Beat Jet Lag (Harper’s)
Intermittent fasting and jet lag protocols (Precision Nutrition)

10 thoughts on “Airports, travel, and fitness

  1. These are great suggestions. I travelled yesterday and had a layover for about two hours in O’Hare. Something I would add to your post is this: don’t feel locked into going only where you *need* to be at an airport. Once I got over to my terminal (a pretty good walk in itself), I located my gate (peace of mind — I like to know where I need to end up) and then went for a nice long walk up and down and back again–briskly without using the people movers.

    I do have a wheely suitcase which works for me. And I do use time at the gate to get work done. So when I’m ready to work, I sit.

    I’m interested in the suggestion to eat less. I packed my own PBJ sandwich because I like to know I can find something to eat, and airports aren’t great at vegan offerings that include protein (getting better, but I don’t always feel like hummus). I also usually take an apple, some dates or raisins, almonds, and a cliff bar. Much of the time this doesn’t get eaten, but in a pinch it expands my choices and prevents a crash. I hadn’t thought about planning to eat less — but I do find myself less hungry when sitting around and generallyl do eat less.

    When I got to DC yesterday I walked my feet off and now I don’t even know how I’m going to do at the Holocaust museum today, let alone go for a run. So I guess on the opposite side of things is, when travelling, pace yourself. All that walking DOES count. And it can require adequate rest as much as regular training even if it feels slower. Between O’Hare and wandering around the Capitol, I got in way more than 10,000 steps yesterday and my feet still feel it this a.m.

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    1. It’s not a hiking back pack as most of those don’t meet airline specifications so I had to compromise. I asked the staff at our local outdoor adventure site what they use for air travel for trips up to five days. I like their choice. It’s made by obusforme. I can’t see a name on it other than that though. Very comfortable to carry and get on and off easily for security etc.

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  2. When I flew into San Francisco last year, I was knocked over by the presence of a yoga room in the concourse. (They also had bins for composting and a noodle bar and all sorts of other stuff that is, in retrospect, totally SF.) I’ve never see anything like it before.

    I do like your practical suggestions quite a bit. It goes back to the idea about integrating physical activity into your daily life, which I know either you or Tracy has written about on your blog before. We (as a society) have this tendency to carve out time and say, “Okay, THIS is going to be my time for doing physical activity” and then being as sedentary as possible the rest of the time, rather than incorporating it into as much of our lives as possible.

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  3. Using RunKeeper, I learned that the main domestic concourses in Atlanta’s airport are about a half a mile long. I try to do as many laps as I can on layovers (I seem to always fly through ATL). I’m usually carrying 20lbs in my backpack, with the laptop, iPad, associated cables & batteries, and anything else I might have to keep myself entertained on the plane.

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  4. Yep, yep, yep.

    I have definitely gotten out of breath walking through airports. They are big, and you are always afraid you’re going to be late!

    I also carry my luggage, even though it has wheels. (My parents are old, and I live with them. If I had bought it myself, it wouldn’t have wheels.)

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