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Should You Exercise with Jet Lag?

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Before talking about exercising when experiencing jet lag, let’s first define what it is. Basically, it is an interruption to our biological clock – what controls us waking up and going to sleep, among other biological functions – known as the circadian rhythm.

It most often occurs when rapidly traveling across as little as two time zones.

If left to recover on your own without any type of intervention, it can take up to nine days to get your body back in synch. Generally speaking, it takes about a day per hour of time zone change for recovery.

Our title question goes much deeper than that. For example, the time of day we exercise affects it as well as exercise consistency before and while traveling.

UCLA did a study awhile back on mice and found their circadian cycles could be adjusted based on the time of day they were exercised. Exercising early in the morning shifted their heart rate and body temperature to an earlier time; exercising late in the day shifted it to a later time.

If this same results holds true in humans, then we would benefit from exercising early in the morning if we are flying east and later in the afternoon or early evening if heading west. Actually follow-on studies using humans this theory to be true. So if you know the direction you are heading, adjust your exercise schedule well ahead of your travel plans, so your biological clock is pre-set ahead of your travel.

Amherst College did a study on humans that showed regular exercise – regardless of when done – helped recover from jet lag quicker. In this case, it appeared the rhythmic schedule of exercise put the biological clock in synch to a daily routine. As applied to diminishing jet lag, participating in a regular exercise program at the same time every day prior to flying and maintaining that schedule around the same time each day once back on the ground in your new location will help keep the body in tune with the time of day. In other words, it associates the time of day with exercising, thus making it easier to acclimate to your new time zone.

Another study out of Brazil, spanning over 20 years, found that regular exercise turns back our biological clocks keeping us younger than we really are. Research has also found that younger people recover faster from jet lag than older folks.

Study conclusions recommend keeping to an exercise schedule prior to traveling and once back on the ground. The act of exercising not only makes you younger than you really are but keeps your body in synch with the time of day – both making it easier to recover from jet lag.

8 Tips for Reducing Jet Lag

Do you suffer from desynchronosis? This is a health condition also known as time zone change syndrome, flight fatigue and jet lag. It is a temporary process which can upset your natural circadian rhythm, which is why it is referred to as circadian rhythm disorder by health and wellness professionals and sleep researchers.

All of those phrases indicate a problem which occurs when you hop on a plane and cover several time zones in a relatively short period of time (traveling west to east causes more problems than east to west). There are 24 international time zones, each separated by 15 degrees of longitude. The International Date Line creates 3 more time zones, 25 military time zones are recognized by some nations, and there are more than 3 dozen local time zones to contend with around the world as well.

The 24 main time zones are 1 hour apart. So if you travel from one time zone to the next in less than 1 hour, you disrupt your biological clock. This can lead to insomnia, weariness, fatigue, slower brain functioning and anxiety. Diarrhea, headaches, irritability, sweating, problems with coordination and dehydration are also linked to jet lag.

This is not a condition which needs to be medically diagnosed. If you cross several time zones and feel any of the symptoms mentioned above, jet lag is the culprit. As you can imagine, the more time zones you cross, the longer it takes your body to adjust. However, there are some proven methods for avoiding or reducing the symptoms caused by flight fatigue. Use the following 8 tips and practices to protect your biological clock when you fly, and desynchronosis will not be a major problem for you.

1) Heading West? Go to Bed and Rise One Hour Later Than Usual

If you are traveling east to west, begin a week or so ahead of time manually conditioning yourself for the change. Schedule your bedtime for 1 hour later than normal. Wake up in the morning 1 hour later as well, and force yourself out of bed even if it is difficult. After a week or two of this behavior, you stand a better chance of resisting jet lag than if you did not adopt this practice.

2) Heading East? Reverse the Process Just Mentioned

The same holds true when you are traveling west to east, which creates more jet lag problems than a westbound flight, since you are basically “losing time”. Wake up and go to sleep 1 hour earlier than you normally would for a couple of weeks in advance of your flight.

3) Hit the Gym and Quit Eating Garbage

Healthy people resist, and recover from, jet lag better than unhealthy travelers. Get plenty of rest, keep hydrated throughout the day, exercise regularly and eat right and flight fatigue won’t be a major problem.

4) Avoid Airport Food

The day of your flight, and the day before, eat a light, healthy meal and drink lots of water. Avoiding the delicious looking and tempting airport food will not only save you a bunch of money, but it will also limit the amount of processed, unhealthy food you digest. The unnecessary strain on your digestive system that “bad” food delivers only exacerbates time zone change syndrome.

5) Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine

Sometimes flights are associated with holidays and celebrations. This can mean too much alcohol late at night, which often requires a lot of caffeine-rich coffee the following morning. Coffee and alcohol weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to the symptoms of jet lag. Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you have on your flight, as well as for 24 hours in advance of your travel.

6) Take a Walk on Your Plane

During your flight, get up and move around. Stretch your legs and arms, especially if you’re covering multiple time zones. Sitting for extended periods of time is extremely unhealthy in any situation, and those negative health consequences are compounded when you do so while crossing several time zones.

7 Drink Plenty of Water in the Air

While you are up there in that tin cigar, drink lots of water. You should be consuming at least 8 ounces of water for every hour that you are flying. You need to do this even if you don’t feel thirsty. Hydration is important for every aspect of your health, and can help limit your exposure to flight fatigue symptoms.

8) Get Outside When You Arrive

Your circadian rhythm is dictated by your ancestors. Human beings used to live outdoors. Even the first societies which lived inside man-made structures spent most of their time outside. As soon as you arrive at your destination, go outdoors. Spend as much time as possible outside. Whether it is sunny and bright or nighttime, your body will begin to slowly reset your internal clock due to the presence or lack of sunshine it notices.

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