Fit and Flying: How This British Airways Pilot Stays Fit While Traveling
They travel more than most of us do, so if anyone knows what it takes to stay fit away from home, it's the person flying your plane.
Airline pilots are constantly on the go, flying from airport to airport, through time zones, and spending hours seated on the flight deck. This can wreak havoc on their body if they're not maintaining some type of routine while on the road.
In and out of cities, airports, and hotels means you have to be dedicated to your own health and fitness. Here's some advice from a commercial airline pilot who knows what it takes to be a fit traveler.
Helen Geering - British Airways First Officer
Helen's Instagram page is a beautiful gallery of photos of her on the flight deck, in hotel gyms, and traveling the world. It's the perfect blend of aviation, travel, and fitness.
We asked Helen what her number one tip for staying fit while traveling is. In a reflection of her commitment to fitness while on the road, she gave us much more than just one tip.
Can you tell us a bit about your flying experience?
Helen: I had my first flying lesson in 2000 in the university air squadron at Manchester University and from that moment I was hooked. However, my arms were too short to pursue a military flying career so I began to plan for a commercial career instead.
I got my PPL in 2003 and went to to attend flight school in Spain in 2005. In between those dates I spent 2 years as an aircraft dispatcher and 9 months as a trainee air traffic controller, all whilst hour building in light aircraft.
I graduated flight school in early 2007 and then joined a regional airline, flying turboprops around the United Kingdom and Europe. I got my command in 2012 and then joined British Airways in 2016, joining the 777 fleet which takes me all over the world!
I do between 3 and 5 trips a month where I’ll be away from 3 to up to 9 days. I enjoy the trips where we have at least 48 hours layover so I have plenty of time to explore!
I fly all over the world, from the USA and South America to Asia and Australia. My favourite places I’ve visited so far include Peru, Japan and Houston where I have a good friend and get to see her more often than some of my own friends here in the UK!
What is your best advice for staying fit while traveling?
Helen: Fitness is an important part of life for many of us, but what about when your routine is anything but standard?
My “routine” involves long hours crossing continents over sometimes very unsociable times of day and having to deal with jet lag on a regular basis. So how do I manage to keep myself fit and healthy? To be honest, I’m still learning! I have been flying long haul for 18 months and this is what I have learned to help me on my way:
Check out the facilities at the hotel you’re staying at, or research what’s available in the local area. My gym membership allows me to use gyms all over the world so if the hotel weight room isn’t up to scratch then I can usually find somewhere that is!
Have options for your workout. For example, I have routines that I can do using only dumbbells, or a HIIT session I can do in my room if I’m short of time or am struggling to find a good place for my usual workout. If you have a personal trainer, ask them to come up with a routine that travels!
Listen to your body and make time for your workout. I often find myself working out at “silly” times of the day, but that’s because I listen to my body clock! 24 hour gyms are great… it may be 4am in Houston, but in my head it’s 9am and I’m ready to go!
This leaves me the rest of the day to take time exploring and discovering some healthy eats before getting some rest before the long flight home.
Listen to your body.
Jet lag is something I have to deal with on a weekly basis and sometimes has a real detrimental effect on getting out there and smashing out a workout. Listen to what your body is telling you… it’s not a crime to take a break!
Quite often I find that a scaled down version of my usual workout, or even a short walk outside on landing day (how I refer to the day I land after a long haul flight!) to blow off the cobwebs is a great way to refresh and reset your body ready to go again the next day.
Most of us know it’s 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
I keep a food diary and plug in my goals for the week to try and stick to! This keeps me on track as much as possible but can get tricky when you can’t prepare your own stuff. I usually make up a couple of meals in tubs to take with me on my outbound flight. When downroute, if I’m on the ball I will research local eateries and plan what I will order before I get there… even better if they have nutrition information!
Most of the time though it’s a best guess, but the more you do this, the more accurate you will be! Of course, I don’t want to be the killjoy who doesn’t want to join the rest of the crew for dinner, so I just make sure I’ve allowed for this in my food diary!
So, the question of “What is your number one tip for staying fit whilst travelling all the time?” is a difficult one!
It’s a combination of small lifestyle changes which work for you, we’re all different and it’s a case of being disciplined with yourself.
Eat well(ish), work out when you can, take a walk and just keep active! Don’t let it take over your life. I visit some incredible places, it would be a shame to miss out on seeing some amazing sights by obsessing over missing a 60 minute gym session!
Airline pilots know better than almost anyone just how challenging it can be to stay fit while traveling. As Helen shows us, there's nothing stopping you from maintaining your fitness routine while away from home. Plan ahead, make adequate time for workouts, listen to your body, and eat right.
A big thank you to Helen for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions!
Check out my new book Fit For Travel on Amazon for more helpful on information on staying fit while traveling.