Researchers Find Link Between Exercise and Jet Lag

jetlagJet lag has always been a big plague to international travelers. It can feel like you’re about to pass out or throw up at a moment’s notice. Your head might hurt, you might feel dehydrated, mental function is hindered and you just feel horrible overall. Yet new research has found a surprising, natural cure: exercise.

Before jumping into how exercise can help jet lag, it’s important to understand the basics of your body’s sleep mechanism. It’s called your circadian rhythm.

The Circadian Rhythm: Your Body’s Sleep System

Your body has an internal clock that regulates when it’s time to feel sleepy and when it’s time to feel alert. It does that through a series of brain hormones, most notably melatonin. Jet lag occurs when your body thinks it’s time to feel sleepy and releases these hormones, when it’s actually daytime.

Traveling east tends to have the worst effect on circadian rhythm. You’re making days shorter, which is difficult for your body to adjust to. Traveling west makes days longer, which your body can adapt to faster.

How Does Exercise Help Jet Lag?

  • Exercise sends a clear signal that it’s time to be awake. Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream and melatonin production is reduced. You’ll feel more mentally alert and awake immediately. More importantly, your body gets the “signal” that it’s daytime and not night time.
  • Exercise helps you fall asleep easier at night. If your body is exhausted, you’re much more likely to fall asleep on command instead of staying up tossing and turning.
  • Exercise helps you stay asleep. Jet lag sufferers often wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Exercise can help you sleep uninterrupted for the whole night, which is crucial for fast recovery.

Several studies have been conducted on jet lag and exercise, both on animals and humans. One notable study found that subjects who exercised recovered from jet lag in just a day and a half. Subjects without exercise took a full eight days to recover.

The Best Way to Exercise for Jet Lag Recovery

Try to do your workouts in the sun. Being in the sun reduces melatonin and sends a clear signal to your circadian rhythm that it’s daytime. If you’re too tired or drowsy to go for a serious workout, just taking a walk and stretching can work wonders.

Try to get in some aerobic as well as anaerobic exercise. Even just doing pushups and pullups until exhaustion can drastically speed up recovery time. Work out once or twice a day for the first 3-4 days after you land. Your jet lag recovery time can easily be cut in half this way.