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posted: 7/4/2010 12:01 AM

Exercises you can do without leaving your seat

Air Pockets

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For my dear Uncle Fred, flying has become a real pain in the neck. It has nothing to do with the long lines at the ticket counters or the frustration of getting through security check points with your shoes intact. It has everything to do with where he's seated.

"I'm always stuck in a middle seat with no room to breath," Fred said. "I'm so cramped. My neck is usually stiff for a week."

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On a recent flight, it turned out to be more serious. Fred suffered blood clots in his legs, which were probably caused from sitting sardine fashion for eight hours on an overseas flight.

According to fitness guru Petra Kolber, it doesn't have to be that way. Petra has published several exercise DVDs and shared her expertise on many television shows, including "CBS Morning Show" and NBC's "Today Show."

At the Food for Your Whole Life Health Symposium (sponsored by the California Walnut Board) in New York City last month, she shared with me some exercises you can do while flying without leaving your seat. In each of these exercises, sit tall and as close to the edge of your seat as possible. Keep your shoulders aligned directly above your hips and enjoy the ride.

The Foot Roll: Pack a tennis ball in your carry-on. Put the ball under your foot and rotate your foot over it for 30 seconds then change feet. It will massage your soul while it massages your sole.

Seated Thigh Squeeze: Put the tennis ball between your knees and squeeze for five seconds. Repeat 12 times. Try to keep your breathing slow and deep as you do the exercise.

The Alphabet: Place your hands on your thighs and contract your abdominal muscles as you lift one foot off the floor. Trace the alphabet with that foot. If you happen to know the Chinese alphabet, try that. This also strengthens your abdominal and thigh muscles. Repeat with the other foot.

Heel Raises: Lift your heels off the floor. Hold it for a couple of seconds. Repeat 10 times.

Toe Taps: Do the same as the heel raises, but with your toes.

Seated Spinal Twist: Slide your left hand to the outside of your right knee, and place your right hand lightly on your seat behind your right hip. Inhale and as you slowly exhale do a small twist to the right. Hold for five to eight slow breaths, then return to center. Repeat to the opposite side.

Seated Neck Stretch: Reach your right hand down by your right thigh, keeping your head facing forward, tilt your left ear toward your left shoulder. Pause. Gently turn your chin toward your left shoulder until you feel a stretch through the right side of your neck. Hold for five to eight slow breaths and then return to center. Repeat on the opposite side.

Seated Upper Back Stretch: Cross your arms in front of your chest and give yourself a big hug. Hold this position and then gently lower your chin toward your chest. Hold for five to eight slow breaths and then return to center.

Exercising is only one part of staying fit on the fly. You should also drink plenty of water. My old flying partners try to drink a liter for every hour of flight. Walk whenever you can. And pack your carry-on with plain, healthy food - not "plane" food. A container of yogurt with a couple of ounces of walnuts sprinkled on top is more satisfying than an airline snack pack. And the natural melatonin in the walnuts may even help you sleep. And for me, that's just the nuts.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached at gailtodd@aol.com.

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