Four Fast Health Tips for Pilots

The author of this post is a registered respiratory therapist but he is NOT a physician. He is not YOUR physician. He is not an AME and he does not represent the FAA in any way, shape, or form. For actual medical advice, or questions about your medical certificate, consult your doctor or the FAA. 

Checking over my documents before flying, I realized that my medical certificate expires at the end of this month. Time to see the AME.

At this stage in my life I’m not worried about my medical certificate. My goal is to keep it that way.

My ten years in the medical industry have exposed me to some massively unhealthful people. I’d hate for any of you to become like them. In that spirit here are four fast health tips for pilots.

#1. STOP SMOKING. Smoking is insidious: you feel fine for decades, but then one day you can’t climb the stairs any more. You’re always short of breath. Suddenly you’re confined to an ever-smaller world, limited in your mobility, every moment focused on your next breath. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is an awful, painful disease. You do not want it.

Smoking is linked to cancer of the lung, bladder, esophagus, and mouth. Smoking also causes high blood pressure and is linked to heart disease. Eventually, those can cost you your medical certificate and your life. Quit while you’re ahead, I implore you.

#2. Stay active physically. My observation is that decreased physical activity is linked to increased sickness. People who stay active seem to be patients far less frequently than the lazy.

You don’t have to be Usain Bolt, either. Even something as simple as taking a walk after dinner helps keep people healthy. Stand more, walk more, do calisthenics or bodyweight resistance exercises. Take a walk in the woods. Go to the park. It’s easy to be active: just kill your television and hit the bricks. You’ll thank me later.

This guy is pretty awesome, but you don't have to be him.

This guy is pretty awesome, but you don’t have to be him to be healthy.

#3. Stay active mentally. Some mental decline is normal with aging. That said, we all know some sharp-as-a-tack octogenarian aviator. It is my opinion that mental decline can be slowed by vigorous use of one’s brain.

Reading, learning, thinking, debating. Based on my observations people who do these things, especially learning, enjoy mental well-being far longer than those who watch a lot of TV. And a good pilot is always learning. Right?

#4. Watch what you eat. Food fuels your body. It makes sense, then, that we should eat good food.

Most of the “food” out there in America is only food in a technical sense. White bread, microwave dinners, and overly processed foods are not really food.

I know, I know; it’s 2013. You’re busy. It’s hard to eat well. I get it, believe me. But you don’t have to be perfect: just strive for an improvement in your diet. Think before you eat. A treat now and then is good as long as you eat healthy most of the time.

You are what you eat, eh?

You are what you eat, eh?

It is my opinion that people who eat actual food (e.g., a banana or an almond) more frequently than “food” (e.g., McDonalds) are much better off in terms of physical health. A good rule of thumb is that if you need a PhD in chemistry to read the ingredients label, or if it is called a “food product,” you shouldn’t eat it.

Don Hertzefeldt's vision of a banana.

Don Hertzefeldt‘s vision of a banana.

A little extra time at the store will go a long way. For instance, my peanut butter is made from one ingredient: peanuts. Some peanut butter is made from…I don’t even know what half the shit in there is. Do you really want to eat it if you don’t know what it is?


It is my belief that following these four simple tips will help to keep you healthy. That said, consult your doctor before making any major lifestyle changes. Try to live healthfully and you should be flying for a long time to come!


2 thoughts on “Four Fast Health Tips for Pilots

  1. Dr. J’s rules for healthy eating
    If it tastes good, it’s bad for you!
    If your mother told you to eat it, it’s good for you.
    If you didn’t want to listen to your mother…it’s VERY good for you!
    If you listened to your mother, GOOD for YOU!
    If it comes in a box or wrapper, it’s bad for you.
    If you can’t pronounce its ingredients, it’s bad for you.
    If it only has one ingredient, it’s good for you.
    If it floats in water, and it’s an apple, it’s good for you.
    If it floats in water, and it’s an egg, it’s bad for you.
    If you have any water left, drink it.

    • These rules work well! The connection between good food and good health seems to be understated or perverted for marketing purposes too frequently these days.

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