Long-haul flights may take you to exciting destinations like the Maldives, Tasmania, or Kyoto, but there’s a downside to those trips—research shows that sitting for extended periods of time can be really bad for your health.
While sitting seems fairly innocuous (it’s just giving your legs a break, after all) there’s an ever-expanding body of scientific evidence that prolonged sitting—whether behind a desk at work or during a long plane ride—can be harmful, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine
Scientists are still working out the official side effects of sitting for extended periods of time, but according to the Mayo Clinic, studies have linked this act to organ damage, an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Other studies have tied the simple act of sitting around with an increased risk of developing dementia, weight gain, loss of brain power, back and neck issues, and muscle degeneration.
According to doctors at Harvard Medical School, sitting can also have harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, leading to an over-productive pancreas. More specifically, when your pancreas doesn’t respond as readily to insulin, it causes the body to produce more insulin, which in turn can lead to diabetes.
While some of the more serious conditions are cumulative—built up over a lifetime of sitting inside a cubicle or pulling a couch potato in front of the television—long flights certainly don’t help. A report cited by The Washington Post revealed that a body’s insulin response can drop after just one day of sitting around too much, including if that sitting is done at 30,000 feet in the air.
Sitting for long periods slows blood circulation, according to the Washington Post, which causes fluid to pool in the legs resulting increased risk of varicose veins and the blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Long-haul flights were already a “perfect storm” for DVTs. While there are some remedies being developed, to alleviate some of that risk on a plane, stretch regularly, stand up and walk the length of the plane when the fasten seat belts sign is off, make friends with the flight attendants (when they’re not working), and take some time for seat yoga and stretches every two hours.