Three Ways to Stay Healthy During Your Next Layover

When I first started traveling, I used to sit in airports on long travel days and assume the worst about boring, useless layovers. As I sulked, my wife would try to make the most of the moments before our next flight. Over the years, she’s learned to smartly — like always — pass the time at the airport. Her favorite trick? Staying active with a few exercises designed for confined spaces.

Eventually, I followed suit and realized that together we could enjoy our downtime prior to departure, and maybe even burn some calories in the process. If you’re searching for ways to divert yourself before a flight, try some of our favorite airport-friendly exercises:

Stretching to Recover Your Muscles

After hectically rushing to the airport and lugging bags through security, your muscles need a recovery stretch. The downward-facing dog yoga pose is my favorite stretching exercise that also works my legs and shoulders. All I have to do is get down on my hands and knees, spread my fingertips and then lift my butt and knees up to make an upside-down V. I use the airport floor if it’s clean; otherwise, I use the seat of a chair for my hands.

If the airport has nice carpet, I also use cat-cow stretches to give my back a little extra TLC. I find a section of clean, carpeted floor, and use a towel to pad my knees if needed — there’s no need to create extra strain on the joints. First, I start with my hands and knees on the floor and, like a frightened cat, inhale while arching my back and tucking my head to my chin. Then, I move into the “cow” position by exhaling and raising my head up to the sky as my back curves downward. You — and your back — will especially love these exercises after sitting for hours on a plane and on transport buses, trains and cars.

Quick Tip:

Don’t be nervous about exercising in public! In my experience, passersby are rarely bothered by someone stretching in the middle of an airport. They’re more worried about finding their gate, shopping or grabbing a quick meal. If you can’t find a quiet and empty part of the airport, use the moment to connect with people. I’ve gotten more smiles of admiration than eye-rolls of judgment when exercising before my flight.

Reflective Walks to Clear Your Stress

You’re now officially on vacation, so it’s time to set the tone for the rest of your travels. Walking is a given at any airport, and the journey between security and the gate often feels like sprinting across a dozen football fields. But once you reach your gate, why not drop your bags and try a different type of walk? If you’re traveling with a companion, you can take turns watching each other’s luggage and going for a long, relaxing stroll around the terminal.

During my reflective walks, I clear my head and think about absolutely nothing, or I spend time casually perusing souvenirs. Either way, I use the time to flush worries from my mind — to forget the stress of planning for my trip, and to remember that I’m on the way to a wonderful destination. I can’t tell you how many times my reflective walk has transitioned me into vacation mode. Your body (and mind) will thank you for lightening the mental load, and your friends and family will appreciate your allowing them to do the same.

Quick Tip:

If you plan to work out at the airport, keep movement in mind when you choose your travel clothes. Long workout pants instead of shorts will make exercising on the airport floor much more comfortable, and lace up sneakers as opposed to slip on sandals provide more support for extended walks.

Strength Building Using Your Body (and Your Chair)

Maintain your regular workout regimen with strength and resistance exercises — all you need is your chair and the space in front of it. Many people don’t realize the effectiveness of a body resistance exercise, but this is my favorite way to burn calories in the departure lobby. I often raise my neighbors’ eyebrows by putting my toes up on a chair or on my carry-on bag (provided there’s nothing fragile in there!) to do some elevated pushups. You can also use the seatback to change the angle and intensity.

Another smart use for your chair is to do triceps dips. Although I have also used a carry-on bag for this in a pinch, I find more resistance using a chair or something with a higher starting point. I just sit on my chair or bag and place my hands shoulder-width apart on the surface next to me. Then I slide my bottom off the front of the seat with my legs extended or bent in front of me, and lower and raise myself by straightening and bending my elbows. This keeps tension on my triceps and off my elbow joints.

After working my upper body, I use squats to easily burn calories and build my balance. I place my feet shoulder-width apart and while keeping my body tight and the weight on the heels of my feet, I push my bottom back and downward. Most importantly, I focus on keeping my chin and chest up while squatting. You can stand freely or squat against a wall; usually after drinking too much coffee to keep up with my busy day, I’m clumsy to the point of needing the added support. So if you do, too, you’ll get no judgment from me!

Quick Tip:

Maintain proper technique during each exercise to avoid injury, and — as with any new exercise regimen — consult a doctor before starting. Once you master your form and get the okay to exercise, these tips will give your travel days a much-needed boost in mental and physical energy.


Where will you fly to next? Look for vacation inspiration at

Duke S. is a travel writer living in Durham, North Carolina.