Our bodies respond well to physical activity, so instead of suffering through jet lag symptoms – there are ways to try to overcome them in the best possible way.
In this article I will point out how exercise can help you combat the little devil that is jetlag. I’m not gonna make any certain conclusion on everyone’s behalf and tell you to go to the gym after a long-haul flight. With that said, there are indicators on physical activity being a helpful tool to combat jet lag faster.
What is jet lag?
If you’ve ever crossed several time zones during a long-haul flight, you will most likely have experienced symptoms of jet lag. No matter how frequent traveler you are, jet lag is a common problem that almost everyone deals with, some more than others.
Jet lag is what you experience when there’s a mismatch between your internal and external clocks. Your internal clock, the circadian rhythm, is a biological cycle regulated by sunlight, temperature, personal habits and the release of hormones that regulate your sleep/wake patterns.
How exercise can help you combat jetlag
When you Google “how to get rid of jet lag fast” you get a number of remedies that supposedly are going to help. If you want something natural, the chief among the many are exercise.
Several studies has shown that while exercise has little direct impact on your internal clock, it can increase the length and quality of your sleep during the adjustment period. This is because under normal circumstances, our circadian rhythm peak earlier in the day when we are most active.
By increasing your heart rate and respiration through exercise, your body will respond in much the same way – by peaking at times when it might otherwise be turning down. This can have a direct effect on how long or short your jet lag symptoms will last.
Should you go to the gym after a long-haul flight?
I will tell you that my reaction the first time I read about exercising after a long-haul flight, was not enthusiastic. But after experiencing enough daytime sleepiness and headaches after my long flights, I thought “why not try”. If it didn’t work, I would at least get a workout out of it.
You don’t need a high-intensity workout session, in fact most experts would advice you to do light to moderate exercises like yoga or jogging. Since long-haul flights tend to leave you dehydrated, the last thing you want to do is sweat out whatever water reserves you have left.
Speaking of things to avoid – exercise late at night. This will make it harder to decompress if you’re jet lagged and may only increase the risk of insomnia.
Note: the aim of exercise after a long-haul flight is to combat the rigors of jet lag, not to reset your biological clock.
During my workout
I chose a moderate cardio session for 30 minutes. Since I tried this exercise-after-a-long-haul-flight-experiment when visiting New York in November – outdoor jogging was not appealing in the sneaking cold. But outdoor exercise will up the chances even more of combating jet lag faster, since you also get the light and temperature which releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin.
During workout I got a high heart rate pretty fast, and it was struggling to motivate myself. But I really believed this could have an impact, so my belief on the effect was higher than the desire to give up. The first 15 minutes seemed unbearable, my body was not quite there yet, but the last part felt good and energizing. I think the key here is to get over the worst, which always is the beginning.
After my workout I felt energized and slept really well the first night. Only felt the jet lag symptoms the first day, but it was not unmanageable. I woke up a little early and felt sleepy maybe two hours before usual, but that was back to normal the third day. Also, I didn’t feel as much fluid retention in the body as usual after a long-haul flight. It felt like I got my feeling of hunger back to normal, almost reset in a way.
The best medicine for jet lag
Exercise is only one part of the strategy to combat jet lag. It’s equally essential to think of your diet before, during and after a long-haul flight, hydration during flight and light exposure, to mention some. We are all different and may not have the same reaction to certain factors, so you have to figure out what’s best for you.
Something to have in mind; traveling east is more difficult because it extends the daylight hours upon arrival. That makes it harder to stay awake until dark or asleep until sunrise. When you travel west you lose daylight hours, so you can more easily adjust to the sleep patterns.
Worth acknowledging when you choose your flight time to your next destination.