Frankie Wallace is a freelance journalist with an interest in aviation news and politics. Wallace graduated from the University of Montana’s Journalism School and currently resides in Boise, Idaho. The views expressed in this article are solely his and do not represent those of Aeronautics Online.
As of 2017, there were over 600,000 certified pilots in the United States alone. Not all of them are commercial airline pilots, of course, but whether a pilot is flying himself or hundreds of other people at once, the importance of health and wellness remains.
When you’re a passenger on a plane, you probably aren’t thinking much about the pilot’s overall health. But as a pilot or someone training to become a pilot, your health should be your top priority.
Preventative health measures are crucial for pilots. When you’re flying a plane, people’s lives are in your hands every single time. It’s important to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to take care of yourself that will lower your risks of getting sick, as well as developing certain health problems and conditions. So, if you’re taking to the skies, what can you do to keep yourself healthy?
Focus on Mental Health
It’s easy to just focus on feeling good, physically, and taking care of your body. But the mental health of a pilot is just as important. Things like depression, anxiety, and even stress can take a toll on how well you perform.
A pilot’s job is stressful. You’re under a lot of pressure every day, you have people’s lives in your hands, you have to remember hours and hours of training material, and no two flights are exactly the same. On top of the pressures of flying, many pilots spend days (or even weeks) at a time away from home, especially on international flights. Although it can be wonderful to experience different parts of the world and different cultures, it can also be a lonely lifestyle at times.
That’s why it’s so important for pilots to maintain a healthy work-life balance. A good work-life balance can keep a pilot from experiencing poor sleep, and reduced satisfaction in both their career and life. Without a healthy work-life balance, it’s easy to experience burnout. If that happens, pilots can be susceptible to problems like:
Obviously, those aren’t issues you want to face when you’re flying around hundreds of people, and have to be aware of other air traffic. Maintaining your mental health by finding ways to relax and take care of your emotions will keep you happy on the job and reduce your risk of burning out quickly.
Fighting Fatigue as a Pilot
Fatigue is one of the biggest concerns for a pilot. Fatigue can lead to a variety of symptoms like drowsiness, impaired judgment, dizziness, headaches, and more. As you might expect, those aren’t things people typically want their pilot to be experiencing while they’re flying a plane.
Unfortunately, one of the main causes of fatigue in the airline industry is a lack of proper sleep. Pilots don’t often have the same schedules each day, and that can lead to sleep deprivation. In a study done by the National Sleep Foundation, it was discovered that 50% of pilots don’t get a good amount of sleep on days they have to work. That same study found that 23% of pilots have experienced issues with their job because of fatigue.
The unusual schedules are part of the problem, but so are the long shifts pilots sometimes have to experience. If a pilot is taking care of national flights, they may be in the air and on the ground multiple times a day, dealing with the stress of having people’s lives in their hands. If they’re on an international flight, that means hours and hours of air time. While long shifts aren’t uncommon in many important careers, including nurses and healthcare workers, they can be dangerous for pilots who aren’t getting enough rest to stay focused and alert. Time in the air is regulated for pilots each week in order to help eliminate fatigue, but it’s still a risk for pilots who aren’t taking proper care of themselves or getting enough sleep when they can.
General Health and Wellness
There are so many health factors a pilot needs to consider in order to stay alert, focused, and prepared to fly a plane. Things like eye health are obviously important. Regular, routine eye exams can ensure a pilot’s vision is where it needs to be. Additionally, wearing protective lenses that block out harmful UV rays can also help to keep your eyes healthy and sharp.
Overall health and wellness are just as important. You don’t necessarily have to feel tired, sick, or in pain for something to be wrong. Taking care of yourself ahead of time is much easier than having to treat yourself when there’s already a problem. But when you’re on the go all the time and traveling all over the world, it’s not always easy.
Thankfully, technology is on your side. Wearable digital devices and health apps can make a big difference in how pilots take care of themselves. You can monitor things like blood pressure, heart rate, calorie burn, steps taken and so much more on a daily basis, so you don’t need to worry about what your overall picture of health looks like. If you already have a condition, such as diabetes, apps, and devices like these can make a big difference in your preventative care and how you manage your symptoms.
There is no one ideal way for pilots to practice preventative healthcare. It’s about taking care of yourself from the inside out and knowing what your mind and body need on a regular basis. Adequate sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet are always a good place to start. But taking a few extra measures to make sure you’re always at the top of your game when flying will benefit your career, allow you to feel good behind the controls, and will help keep your passengers safe.