Monday, February 20, 2012

Airports get into the fitness craze for stressed travelers

Jennifer Purdie recently had to figure out what to do with a two-hour layover at San Francisco International Airport. She could have gone to a bar and had a cocktail. But she wanted to try something healthier.

So she pulled workout pants and a T-shirt out of her carry-on bag and stopped by the airport's new yoga room. Afterward, she changed in the bathroom, cleaned up with some antiseptic wipes, and boarded her flight in time.

"I try to find a fitness option, especially for long layovers, so I don't feel like I'm wasting my time," she says. "It kind of de-stresses you."

As the country becomes more conscious of its obesity problem, even airports are getting into the fitness craze. With delays and long layovers increasingly common, airports are offering travelers alternatives to passing the hours on a bar stool.

San Francisco International unveiled its yoga room, painted in a calming blue palette, last month in its recently refurbished Terminal 2. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has a 1.4-mile marked walking path in a couple of concourses. At Los Angeles International Airport, travelers can hit an 18-hole golf course or do yoga or tai chi at the LAX Flag Courtyard.

A number of airport hotels also have opened up their fitness centers to all - for a fee. For $30 you won't have to leave Terminal D of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to work out. Pop over to the Grand Hyatt's full-service fitness center and spa. Lockers are designed for carry-on bags, and workout clothes are available for purchase. Above the U.S. Departures area in Vancouver International Airport in Canada, the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel offers travelers a health club and pool for an $18 day pass. At the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport, non-guests can buy day passes for $10 or $19, depending on their loyalty status.

"There certainly is more of an awareness, and there's a great deal more attention given to the idea of maintaining an active, fit lifestyle," says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. "It's in large part due to the disturbing obesity statistics our nation is facing. With regard to air travel, it's also an attempt to limit the risks of air-related health problems."

Among potential hazards: blood clots from sitting in cramped quarters, dehydration or jet lag. Moving regularly, drinking lots of water and eating healthy would improve the increasingly uncomfortable flying experience, Bryant says.

"Really, if people would just look for any and every opportunity to move when they're traveling, they will feel better during travel and when they reach their destination," he says.

A list of airport gyms

Kevin Gillotti considers himself an athlete first and a traveler second. A few years ago, he figured out how to combine his two passions by starting a website called He encourages travelers to write in when they find a fitness center at an airport or within a 10- to 15-minute ride from one. He then lists them by state.

"I'd have these massive layovers where I'm sitting there doing nothing, and for an active guy like me, I can't sit like that," says the San Diego-area resident and avid runner. "I think the public is slowly coming around to fitness and the value of it."

For many airports, building a gym can be risky. A restaurant or other concession may be a better payoff for the limited amount of space. There are also security concerns. For that reason, experts say, you will likely find most fitness options outside of an airport's security zone.

Still, many airports are experimenting with options such as the yoga room. They are also attracting food vendors with more organic and healthier dishes on their menus.

"I think airports are looking for ways to distinguish themselves and to stand out," says Jason Clampet, editor of guidebook publisher

Minneapolis-St. Paul's airport started its walking path as part of the American Heart Association's Start Walking program. The infrastructure was already there past security. All it had to do was delineate the path on overhead signs and on the terminal directory.

"The travelers benefit from having a set, measured exercise route, and the Airports Commission benefits from getting travelers to see more of the airport, including many of the shops and restaurants available that they might later decide to visit," says Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the airport.

Says Beth Blair, a writer and flight attendant who often uses the path: "It's inspiring to watch passengers change shoes and hit the path during their layovers."

Walking it off

Some active Road Warriors say they don't need a gym or a walking path to fit in some exercise. They just walk through the terminals, avoiding the moving walkways, elevators and escalators. Some use their carry-on bags as weights.

Terry Buchen, a golf course agronomist in Williamsburg, Va., spends a lot of time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He doesn't take the train between terminals and walks instead, pulling a roller board and large briefcase for more exercise.

"I am always concerned about blood clots from sitting too long in airplanes," he says. "That is an added incentive for walking as much as possible in airports, which I feel makes the flights much easier."

By Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY

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