Can exercise cure jet lag?

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Jetting off on a far-flung holiday is brilliant – but the jet lag that comes with it, not so much. So how to beat that tsunami of fatigue? Exercise is the key, says BodyHoliday’s wellness therapist Hiley Fulgence…

To understand how to treat or prevent jet lag, we need to know about circadian rhythms and the symptoms of jet lag.

What are circadian rhythms?

Circadian rhythms, or the body clock, are 24-hour cycles in the biochemical, physiological, and behavioral processes of our bodies. They regulate daily activities, such as sleep, waking, eating, and body temperature regulation.

The body clock and the brain

Jet lag appears to involve a disruption in two separate but linked groups of neurons in the brain. These neurons are part of a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is located below the hypothalamus at the base of the brain.

One of these groups of neurons is associated with deep sleep and the effects of physical fatigue. The other group controls the dream state of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The group of neurons involved in REM sleep finds it harder to adjust to the new cycle, and the two groups become out of sync.

What puts the body clock out of sync?

The body clock is driven by an internal time-keeping system, but it is affected by external environmental factors, such as the light-dark cycle of night and day. When the body clock gets out of sync and needs to be reset, jet lag results.

Traveling across different time zones and going through daylight and darkness cycles that are different from the rhythms we are used to can cause our body clock to get out of sync. Other causes include shift work and some sleeping disorders.

Hormone regulation is key to body clock synchronization. When jet lag happens, hormone levels get out of sync with the environment. Body temperature also varies according to the body clock. Jet lag will continue until all these factors can respond properly to the new environment.

Symptoms of jet lag include;

– Sleep disturbances, insomnia, lethargy, and fatigue
– A heavy, aching head
– Irritability, confusion, and difficulty focusing
– Mild depression
– Loss of appetite
– A dizzy, unsettled feeling
– Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea or constipation

Now we understand jet lag, here’s how exercise can help…

Exercise help delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently, therefore it will help balance your hormones which is essential for getting rid of jet lag.

What types of exercise are better for jet lag?

Because of the symptoms that are associated with jet lag, the exercise that will be best for jet lag is light cardio.

Should you work out as soon as you arrive?

Yes, as long as you are not too weak, sick or didn’t sleep for more than 24 hours. It’s better to rest first in these instances.

What about dehydration?

Water is one of the essential ingredients to prevent and treat jet lag. In any case, if you are jet-lagged, drink plenty of water and exercise lightly. Light exercise like a walk shouldn’t affect you if you are a little dehydrated.

What can you do before or during a flight to reduce jet lag?

Light cardio and stretches. For example, walking during the flight and taking an early morning jog.

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