How Exercise Can Help With Jet Lag

Woman resting on a plane
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If you've ever crossed several time zones in one trip, you've probably experienced jet lag or the unsettling feeling that you might pass out, throw up, or collapse at any given moment. To your body, it may feel like the middle of the night but, to your mind, it's the middle of the day. Your body's struggle to adjust is what causes symptoms such as:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Problems with coordination and memory

When you're in the midst of jet lag, exercise may be the last thing you want to do. However, a workout may actually help reset your body clock while reducing the symptoms of jet lag. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise can help re-synchronize your body and that there are three important times when exercise can help you the most.

How and When to Exercise to Reduce Your Jet Lag

  • Exercising Before Your Flight - While you're still fresh and full of energy, try a higher intensity workout before your flight to burn some calories and get rid of any travel stress. If you have a very early flight, you may not have time for a full workout, but a few brisk laps around the airport before boarding will work just fine. A tough pre-flight workout to try is this fat and calorie burning circuit workout.
  • Staying Active During Your Flight - It's tough to move in such a small space, but any movement can keep your blood flowing and help you feel a little less cramped and tight. Get up and walk around if you can or, if that's not an option, try isometric exercises. Squeeze your glutes, contract your abs or do leg extensions if you have the leg room. Quick in-flight workout:
    • 20 leg extensions - both legs at the same time
    • 20 glute squeezes
    • 20 triceps dips
    • 20 ab twists
    • 20 inner thigh squeezes
    • 10 shoulder rolls forward and back
    • Neck stretch - hold for 30 seconds
    • Twisted shoulder stretch - hold for 30 seconds
    • Seated hip stretch - hold for 30 seconds on each side.
  • Exercising After You Arrive - You may find that your worst jet lag symptoms happen 2 or 3 days after you arrive. To help combat that, try to exercise the day you get there, even if it's a short walk or a few exercises in your hotel room. Your best post-flight workout is a 20 or 30-minute moderate intensity walk followed by some basic ​body weight exercises to work your muscles.

There's not much research on the best exercise to reduce jet lag, so listen to your body and do what feels best. High-intensity cardio may be out of the question when you're exhausted and your body feels like it weighs twice as much as it normally does. If that's the case, try a light bodyweight workout, a walk or some stretching exercises and remember you'll be back to your old self in a few days.

Easy Jet Lag Workouts

  • No Weight Workout - This workout is short, simple and easy to do in your hotel room with no equipment needed. This is perfect to maintain your strength and keep your muscles working even if your energy levels are waning.
  • Basic Stretch - If working up a sweat seems impossible, this simple flexibility workout can get the circulation going without stressing your body.
  • Morning and Evening Yoga - Yoga is great for stress relief and it can also help you relax. This workout is perfect, whether it's the first thing in the morning or it just feels like it is.
  • Seated Stretch - If you're stuck on an airplane for several hours, try this seated stretch workout to keep you from getting tight and sore.
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