Fit to Fly: Why
the In-Shape Pilot is a Better Pilot
by Paul Engstrom,
You've just completed another
thorough pre-flight and, climbing into the cockpit, say to yourself
once again, 'She's fit to fly.'
But, honestly, can you say the
same about your body, that under-exercised, overfed and overworked
bucket of bolts you unconsciously depend on when calling the shots
Probably not, if you're like most
general aviation pilots. 'After all,' you might argue, 'I won't need
to run five miles or lift 200 pounds while flying. So if I don't
routinely have seizures, fainting spells, trouble breathing or other
serious medical problems, why worry?'
Good muscle tone, coordination,
flexibility and reflexes are critical for maintaining the fine motor
skills that flying demands.
The ability to think and respond
sharply'that is, to make the right 'go, no go' decisions and other
life-or-death judgments'depends a lot on your overall fitness.
Physiological processes you take
for granted but that play a key supportive role in aviating, such as
respiration, circulation, even digestion, work better when you're
fit. For example, with less oxygen pumping through your brain
because of poor circulation, you're likely to feel dizziness or
other high-altitude effects sooner than someone who's in good
Your body, especially if you
perform aerobatics, is better able to withstand positive and
negative G forces if it's strong.
Perish the thought, but fitness
reduces the chance you'll suffer a first-time heart attack, stroke
or other calamitous event in the air'or on the ground.
Staying in shapes boosts the
likelihood you'll be aviating competently'and enjoying it more!'at
age 70, 80 or beyond.
Does this mean you should train
like a marathon runner would? Not at all.
However, an absolute minimum,
according to Glenn R. Stoutt, MD, a senior aviation medical examiner
in Louisville, Ky., is 20 to 30 minutes a day of moderately vigorous
aerobic exercise three to four times a week. A 30- to 40-minute
workout daily, along with strength training using weights, is even
As Stoutt likes to say, 'If
exercise isn't fun, it won't get done.' So, in addition to a healthier
diet, choose activities you like, be they jogging, hiking, bicycling,
swimming, rowing, StairMaster, treadmill, or brisk walks around the
airport alone or with a friend or the dog.
More importantly, advises Donald
Anders Talleur, an assistant chief flight instructor at the University
of Illinois Institute of Aviation, don't fly if, on any given day, you
sense that poor fitness has finally caught up with you.
When he isn't flying, Paul Engstrom
writes and edits from Sebastopol, Calif.
The information contained herein is meant for
informational purposes only. Neither IFA, nor Paul Engstrom assume any
responsibility or liability for events that occur due to actions you
or others on your behalf take based on the information given in this
article. You are proceeding at your own risk. It is strongly advised
that you seek the opinion and advice of a qualified aviation medical
examiner and appropriate medical physician for any medical needs you