How pilots deal with stress can teach us all something about the importance of self-care.

What’s more deadly for a pilot: high cholesterol or dangerous airspeeds?

All images via iStock.

You probably thought the answer was the latter, right? After all, that sounds right.


But according to an official Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) health information handout provided to pilots, pilots are actually far more likely to die from the complications of high cholesterol, such as a stroke or heart attack, than dangerous airspeeds while flying.

In our minds, pilots seem larger than life, but they need to be just as aware — if not more so — about their health as we do.

Pilots have an incredibly stressful job — after all, it's their responsibility to get everyone on the plane safely to their destination.

And they have to do that while also coping with irregular, around-the-clock schedules, jet lag, and large amounts of time away from home and loved ones.

With all that pressure and responsibility, it is crucial that pilots develop good habits for taking care of their health. Otherwise they can develop some severe health issues that can put them — and everyone on board — at risk.

This means that preventive health care is incredibly important for pilots. So why not ask them to share some health care tips?

All pilots have to pass routine FAA mandated medical requirements where doctors check things like their heart health, blood pressure, vision, and hearing — any of which could ultimately cost pilots their license because issues in these areas could hinder a pilot's ability to do their job or could endanger passengers' safety.

Taking control of their diet, exercise, stress levels, and sleep are the best ways for pilots (and all of us!) to stay healthy.

Check out these helpful tips on preventive care and self-care from some seasoned pilots.

One of the most important things is to make a plan ahead of time for when to eat, sleep, exercise, or even just relax on a trip.

Because their schedules change so often from day to day, one of the only ways pilots can make sure to remember to take care of themselves is to actually schedule everything, says John Scully, a retired pilot who flew for almost 40 years and the father of one of our staff writers. That way, they are always prioritizing health and well-being — even when things get busy.

And while most of our schedules are probably nowhere near as hectic as a pilot's is, making a plan for your day is a great way to make sure you don't forget to schedule some "you time."

If you're always eating on the go, try to opt for something on the healthier side.

While some airlines — depending on the length of the flight — provide crew members with meals, others do not provide any meals at all for the pilots. According to Mike Scully, a first officer with a major U.S.-based airline (and John's son), if they don't eat before they fly (or bring something on the plane), Mike says, all they have are snacks like pretzels or peanuts. And hotel and airport food, while usually available, isn't always the healthiest or most nutritious, but sometimes it's all pilots have time to grab.

"I'll do everything that I can when I am on the go to not eat at a chain restaurant or a hotel," says Mike. And when he has to grab airport food, he tries to get things like salads, sandwiches, or fruit — things that are healthier, easy to carry on the plane, and that taste good eaten cold.

And, he says, when home from a trip, he tries to offset any unhealthy habits. "I personally like to cook. I try, once or twice while I am home, to cook, and when I do, I try to cook healthy."

Remove "avoidable stress" whenever possible.

Because piloting is, by its very nature, stressful, it becomes tremendously important to make other things less so. This means avoiding things that they know will be upsetting when pilots know they have to sleep or take care of themselves before a flight.

"The worst thing that I can do is look at my phone right before I need to go to sleep," says Mike. Upsetting news or unopened emails have the potential of worrying or waking a person in the middle of the night.

Removing "avoidable stress" also means finding ways to avoid easy mistakes and put your mind at ease.  And for that, organization is key.

"I miss routine, so when I’m home or not flying, I like to have routine," Mike explains. "So I try to make sure that even though I am in different countries or different hotels, everything is very standard."

For example, he tries to pack his suitcase in the exact same way for every trip so when he needs something — say, a pair of sunglasses — he knows exactly where to look.  And when he arrives at his hotel room, he tries to unpack the same way every night and repack his bag in the same way so that nothing gets lost. "I don’t want to be losing phone chargers every week at hotels," he says.

And after working, it's important to find a way to relax and exercise.

"Some of my friends, the first thing that they do is plan a time to go to the gym," says Mike. "I carry clothes with me and I go down sometimes, but what I really like to do on the road is walk. If I'm in a safe part of a city, I'll walk, and it's nice to see things and try things, like if I'm in Lima, I'll try Peruvian food and just walk around the city."

A view of the city of Lima, Peru.

For him, walking accomplishes two things at once — exercise and relaxation — so he’s more likely to actually do both. (No excuses!)

Plus as little as 30 minutes spent walking outside has been shown to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Remember that your loved ones are there to help.

Having a supportive family is also a great stress-reliever because they are there to offer support when you need it.  "A call home always helped me," says John. "And they would generally know that it was best to wait to tell me about the plumbing problem at home — or something else — until after the last leg of the trip."

Of course, most of us are not airline pilots, and we might not have such unpredictable work schedules, but we can all learn something from their self-care routines.

The most important thing — whether you work around the clock, have a sedentary desk job, or just feel a lot of stress in your day-to-day life — is to remember to take time for yourself and your health in all the business.

And while most of us don’t have routine FAA mandated medical requirements to remind us to go to the doctor, it is still important that we schedule a checkup with our doctor so that we know our health numbers — cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and blood sugar — and so that we can take control of our health before a problem develops.

Because if pilot routines show us anything, it's that caring for your health and your well-being isn't selfish: It's crucial if you want to be able to be there for those who are depending on you.

Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.

This was written by staff writer Simone Scully and the pilots featured are her father and brother.

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Cigna 2017

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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