The Science of Long-Haul Flights and How to Stay Healthy

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Are you wondering how to stay healthy on long-haul flights? Long-haul flights can be exhausting and uncomfortable, causing a wide range of physical and mental stress on our bodies. From cramped seats to jet lag, the effects of long flights can be felt long after we arrive at our destination. Athletes are particularly susceptible to these negative effects as they are often on the road for tours, training, and competitions. 

Frequent travel across different time zones and continents can make it increasingly difficult to maintain a consistent routine and diet. As more people, including athletes, are taking long-haul flights for business, leisure, and sports, it’s crucial to understand how flying affects our bodies and what we can do to stay healthy.

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind long-haul flights and how they impact our bodies. Whether you’re a frequent flyer or a first-time traveler, understanding how to take care of your body during long-haul flights is essential for staying healthy and comfortable on your journey.

The Science Behind Air Travel and How to Stay Healthy on Long-Haul Flights

a photo of a man sitting on an airplane

A key point for how to stay health on long-haul flights is understanding what changes when you are in a plane cabin. When we fly long distances, our bodies are subjected to various physical effects. Cabin pressure changes and low humidity levels can cause dehydration and dryness in our skin and mucous membranes. Additionally, the reduced oxygen levels in the cabin can lead to fatigue and headaches.

The cabin pressure in an airplane is lower than at sea level, which can cause our body’s tissues and fluids to expand. This can result in bloating, gas, and discomfort, particularly in our gut. The low humidity levels in the cabin can also dry out our nasal passages and throat, leading to irritation and discomfort.

Furthermore, the reduced oxygen levels in the cabin can lead to hypoxia, a condition where our body tissues don’t get enough oxygen. This can result in fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. The longer the flight, the more likely we are to experience these symptoms.

To counteract the effects of flying on our bodies, it’s important to stay hydrated, move around frequently, and avoid consuming too much alcohol or caffeine. Drinking water regularly can help to prevent dehydration and dryness in our mucous membranes, while getting up and stretching our legs can help to improve blood flow and prevent blood clots. Additionally, avoiding alcohol and caffeine can help to reduce the risk of dehydration and promote restful sleep during the flight.

How Long-Haul Flights Affect Our Health

a photo of the human microbiota

Flying long distances can have significant health risks, particularly for athletes who frequently travel for tours, training, and competitions. The physical and mental stress of long flights can leave our bodies vulnerable to various health issues.

One of the most significant risks of long flights is the increased likelihood of developing blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). (1) The risk of DVT is higher in people who sit still for long periods, such as during a flight. Additionally, dehydration can exacerbate the risk of DVT and can cause discomfort and swelling in the legs.

Long-haul flights can also lead to respiratory issues, particularly in people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The dry, recycled air in the cabin can irritate the airways and make it harder to breathe. Furthermore, the low oxygen levels in the cabin can make it harder for our bodies to fight off infections.

Flying can lower our immune response, while exposing us to a wide variety of environmental stressors. Being in close proximity to others for an extended period of time, touching shared surfaces, and breathing in recycled air all increase the risk of catching a virus during long-haul flights. 

In the current climate, it’s crucial to follow good hygiene practices to reduce the risk of infection. Prior to flying, make sure to stay consistent with your health routines, including  diet, exercise and supplementation, to ensure your immune response is strong and resilient. 

The Impact of Aircraft Cabin Pressure on Athletes

A display of how air flows through the cabin of an airplane and how this influences how to stay healthy on long haul flights

When you’re flying in an airplane, the cabin is pressurized to a level equivalent to an altitude of 2440 meters. This can cause a significant decline in the amount of oxygen in the blood for everyone on board, including athletes. Compared to the 21% oxygen saturation at sea level, the average oxygen saturation in an airplane cabin is around 15%. (2)

To investigate this, a study was conducted with 45 athletes and 18 healthy staff, measuring their oxygen saturation and heart rate at sea level before departure, at 3 and 7 hours into the flight, and after arrival at sea level. (3)

The study found that oxygen saturation levels dropped by 3-4% after 3 and 7 hours of flying due to a decrease in cabin pressure and oxygen levels. These findings have significant implications for athletes, as this decline in oxygen saturation may affect their performance. It’s important for athletes and coaches to consider these factors when planning travel schedules and competitions, as arriving on the day of competition may not be sufficient to avoid the effects of reduced cabin pressure. By being aware of these changes, athletes can take steps to mitigate their impact and optimize their performance.

The Impact of Flying on the Microbiome

a photo of Lyvecap STRONG | our top tip for how to stay health on long-haul flights

Flying can have a significant impact on our gut microbiome, which plays a critical role in maintaining our overall health and well-being. The gut microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that live in our digestive system, helping to digest food, support our immune system, and produce essential vitamins and nutrients.

The stress of travel, changes in routine, and disruption to our sleep patterns can all have a negative impact on our gut microbiome. Additionally, the dry air in the cabin, changes in cabin pressure, and low humidity levels can cause dehydration and dryness in our gut, further disrupting the delicate balance of our gut microbiome.

Furthermore, the food and drink options available during long flights may be limited and less nutritious than our usual diet, leading to imbalances in our gut microbiome. This can cause digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation, making long flights even more uncomfortable.

To support our gut microbiome during long flights, it’s important to eat a healthy and balanced diet, focusing on foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine can also help maintain hydration levels and support our gut health. Consider packing your own snacks to keep your diet and nutrition regulated while traveling. 

Additionally, taking probiotics before and during the flight can help to maintain the balance of our gut microbiome and support our immune system. Probiotics can also help to reduce the risk of digestive issues during travel, making long-haul flights more enjoyable with fewer adverse side effects. 

Lyvecap Probiotics Improve Oxygenation in High-Altitude Flying Environments

a diagram of how Lyvecap STRONG works / a top tip for How to stay health on long-haul flights

For athletes who frequently travel to high-altitude environments, such as for competitions or training camps, maintaining proper oxygenation is crucial for peak performance. Oxygen changes in the gut can directly influence the amount of oxygen available for the rest of the body, which is especially important for elite athletes who place high oxygen demands on their bodies daily.

Lyvecap probiotics can help improve oxygenation by reducing oxygen usage in the gut. This can increase the oxygen available for other essential organs, which is especially important during long-distance flights. By taking Lyvecap probiotics before and during travel, athletes can support their gut health and improve oxygenation, leading to better performance and faster recovery post-flight. 

In summary, Lyvecap probiotics can be a valuable tool for athletes who frequently fly or travel to high-altitude environments. By prioritizing gut health and taking steps to promote healthy oxygenation, athletes can achieve their goals and maintain peak performance, regardless of where their competition schedule takes them.

The Takeaway: How to Stay Health on Long-Haul Flights

Prioritizing your health and well-being during travel is crucial for arriving at your destination feeling your best. Long-haul flights can take a significant physical and mental toll on athletes and everyday individuals alike. By focusing on hydration, movement, rest, gut health, and hygiene, you can help mitigate the risks of travel and arrive feeling refreshed.


  1. Hinninghofen H, Enck P. Passenger well-being in airplanes. Auton Neurosci. 2006 Oct 30;129(1-2):80-5. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2006.07.018. Epub 2006 Sep 7. PMID: 16962384.
  2. Humphreys S, Deyermond R, Bali I, Stevenson M, Fee JP. The effect of high altitude commercial air travel on oxygen saturation. Anaesthesia. 2005 May;60(5):458-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2005.04124.x. PMID: 15819766.
  3. Geertsema C, Williams AB, Dzendrowskyj P, Hanna C. Effect of commercial airline travel on oxygen saturation in athletes. Br J Sports Med. 2008 Nov;42(11):877-81. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.042960. Epub 2007 Dec 10. Erratum in: Br J Sports Med. 2009 Apr;43(4):310-1. PMID: 18070801