“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Lucius Seneca
Although these words were recorded thousands of years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca must have experienced the same thrill of travel that many of us have. It is true that traveling to a new country, a different city, or another culture can wake up the adventurer in you. I am in Germany for the first time right now and feeling energized by unfamiliar sights, sounds and even smells that I have been absorbing during my stay.
In addition to being imparted with “new vigor,” though, travel also imparts less desirable outcomes on me: back pain. Perhaps not the response you were expecting, but I suspect I am not alone in experiencing the aches and pains of travel just as acutely as the joys and wonders.
My most recent trip has reminded me that moving regularly throughout the day and sitting for only short bursts keeps me pain-free. Travel, particularly international travel, means more time sitting and less time moving. And that means a greater chance of feeling achy and not so great. For me that stiffness and pain comes in my lower back.
I also have been reminded though of some easy ways to keep moving (even if slightly) while on the road (or in the air).
1. Don’t Sit At The Gate
I always have been a bit perplexed by the battle for a seat at the airplane gate. Everyone is waiting to board a vehicle where you will be prohibited from standing for some time. You may be facing several hours stuck in a chair. Yet at the gate, it seems everyone sits down while waiting for boarding.
Instead of sitting, try standing at the gate while you wait for your flight. More airlines are placing standing-height counters at gates and some with charging stations (bonus!). Sometimes I use the time at the gate to do stretches as well. I suggest finding an out-of-the-way spot for stretching as it tends to get some odd looks from folks around you. Your loose muscles will have the last laugh though!
2. Walk Around The Plane
As often as you can on the plane, try to stand up and walk. Sitting on a plane is among the worst type of sitting. First, your body is in a 90-degree angle, which prevents strong blood and oxygen flow. Second, airplane seats almost encourage slouching and thus placing unwanted pressure on our lower spines.
If possible, try to stand once every 45 minutes. You may want to simply stand in the aisle. You also can walk up and down the aisle or walk to a spot in the plane where you are allowed to stand for a few minutes. Again, you might get a few curious stares but those people probably are just thinking: “I should be doing that!”
3. Make Slight Movements While Sitting
Whether sitting on a plane, train or in a car you can make slight movements that can help ward off some stiffness and improve circulation.
You can flex your glutes muscles regularly, raise your calves up and down, or alternate lifting your feet off the ground. You also may want to twist your torso side-to-side, stretch your arms above your head, and make slow circles with your neck.
4. Sit Cross-Legged
Sitting in a traditional posture in a chair, airplane, train or car seat can put pressure on your lower back and create or exasperate tightness in your hips. Look for opportunities to sit cross-legged instead of a traditional sitting position. Sitting cross-legged helps to open the hips and take some pressure off the back. You also are less likely to sit with a rounded spine when sitting cross-legged. If you are feeling stressed, this position has been shown to help create a sense of calmness as well.
5. DIY Standing Desk
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, chances are you will spend some time on your computer. Instead of sitting at the table or desk in your hotel room, look for a way to create a standing desk. There may be a waste basket or small side table that you can place on top of the desk and then put your laptop on. It won’t be pretty, but it will give a break from a chair!
6. Look For A Chance To Walk
Getting out and walking in a new city is one of the best ways to experience it as a local. Instead of hopping in a cab, find out if your destination is close enough to walk. You may need to plan ahead a bit for the extra time but the experience and the picture opportunities will be worth it. Additionally, walking and biking tours are wonderful ways to see the sights while getting some movement.
Traveling means a break from your daily routines which is sometimes what we all need to reset. The challenge is to keep the healthy and active parts of your daily routines going. With these tips, you can stay on your feet more and hopefully experience more of the vigor of travel and less of the back pain.