Pilots have demanding jobs that require good physical and mental health to perform. Tens of thousands of people rely on pilots each day for safe transportation. Navigating complex aircraft through busy airspace and challenging weather conditions while maintaining compliance with all instructions from air traffic control takes both alertness and good physical and mental health.
Yet, those very jobs often place the pilot in difficult circumstances to achieve and maintain good physical and mental health.
Varying work schedules, from up early one day to flying late at night the next day or transoceanic flight through multiple time zones, only to quickly repeat it again. That, combined with the sedentary nature of the job and a steady diet of airport food, make for a challenging combination. So how can a pilot maintain good physical and mental health?
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Fatigue is a critical risk factor for the safety of flight. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) takes this seriously, as do the airlines. Simple Flying has covered rest requirements in other articles, so I will not duplicate that here, except to say that a pilot has a personal responsibility to rest when given the opportunity to do so. The rest rules of Part 117 are complex, but in simple and abbreviated terms, a pilot must be afforded a minimum of 10 hours between flight duty periods, with at least 8 of those hours available for rest. Use it wisely.
Though the job can be very sedentary by the very nature of sitting for hours in the flight deck, the job does provide opportunities to stretch and walk. Go beyond the basic walk to the gate. Have a longer overnight than typical? Get out and walk or use the hotel gym. Have an hour between flights? Take an extra walk through the terminal or another walk around the exterior of the aircraft.
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Eating well is a major challenge facing commercial pilots in their journey towards good physical and mental health. Or, in some cases, eating at all! I have had days when I have intentionally not brought a food supply because I anticipated time between flights to get food at a favorite spot in a favorite airport, only to have delays from an earlier flight eliminate my opportunity to secure any food for that day. To combat this, many pilots pack food for a trip, at least enough for an emergency meal or two. Pack and eat as healthy as possible.
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Pilots love to fly, but professional aviators must have a life and identity outside of flying. Vigorously pursue outside interests and hobbies. Read. Build. Travel. Music. Some of the best and most balanced pilots I have known actively pursue other hobbies and interests outside their flying time. Pilots work hard and demanding jobs but often have considerable time off between trips. Whatever it is that brings you joy and relieves stress, pursue it.
I concede that everything offered in this article is easier to say than put into practice. It is written as much as an encouragement to fellow pilots as it is a reminder to me to place my physical and mental health first. After all, I want to perform in this career I love for as long as possible.
Rest well, eat well, exercise, and play hard.