How Do Pilots Stay Fit?

How do pilots stay fit? In a job where much of the time is spent sitting down, keeping fit is an ever-present challenge…

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Pilots follow regular and rigorous fitness regimes to stay in shape. When you are responsible for the safety of your flight crew and passengers, you cannot take health and fitness lightly.

All the major airlines in the United States and the rest of the world have strict requirements for pilot fitness.

Pilot fitness requirements

Pilot fitness requirements vary from one airline to another. For example, pilots with Alaska Airlines will require the ability to navigate through bad weather, which a general airline pilot may not need.

However, all pilots have to meet a threshold of physical and mental fitness. Without that, they won’t pass the medical examinations or even the flight training.

The best way to know about the specifics of pilot fitness requirements is to get in touch with your regional airlines. In general, pilots have to meet the following requirements:

  • Body weight under control, that is, a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Good eyesight, preferably without contacts or specs
  • No color blindness
  • No history of drug abuse
  • No heart disease
  • No evidence of Deep Vein Thrombosis
  • No high blood pressure

Military pilots have to be in better shape than commercial pilots, but that doesn’t mean commercial pilots get a pass. If you are the first officer on an international flight, being in good health is of utmost importance.

Not being in good shape jeopardizes the safety of both passengers and flight attendants.

If you are wondering, pilots can be diabetic – but they show that their blood glucose levels have been under control for at least 6 months.

What are the physical requirements to be a pilot?

Long flight plans demand intense physical and mental resources from the pilots. Student pilots would often be required to prove their mental fortitude first.

After that, they must prove their physical capabilities. If you do not have a high degree of physical fitness, you will not be given the responsibility of long-haul flights.

Vision is an important physical marker for pilots. Along with that, pilots must have perfect hearing. This combination allows them to interact smoothly with Air Traffic Control.

Pilots should also be able to work under high stress. They typically suffer significantly from jet lags. Nonetheless, they have to be razor sharp at all times in following commands and executing maneuvers.

Not just pilots, but even flight engineers must be in great shape for the safety of crew members and passengers.

What disqualifies you from being a pilot?

Being a pilot may not be a good idea if you have poor vision. There are better options in terms of professional growth rather than being a pilot with a bad vision.

You will not be allowed to fly at a stage where other people’s lives depend on you.

If you tend to get blood clots easily, being a pilot is not the best option for you. In case there’s any midair emergency, this can turn out to be a big problem.

Pilots also have to have a certain height and weight. The good news is that it is nothing extraordinary.

As long as you are taller than 5’4 inches and not overweight, you can be a pilot.

You can always improve your physical fitness with hard work, exercise, healthy food, and discipline. If you are young, you may still have a lot of time to realize your dream of becoming a pilot.

Since the basic requirements are not overwhelming, most people have a good shot of becoming professional pilots.

Certificate of fitness for flight

How do pilots stay fit?

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The certificate of fitness for a flight depends on several factors. Most importantly, it depends on the governing authority you want to get certified from.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issues certificates of fitness for pilots and cabin crews. To be eligible to be a pilot under the FAA, you must have a third-class airman medical certificate at least.

It’s the bare minimum that student pilots must have to take charge of even practice flights.

The FAA carries out several tests to determine whether someone is fit to fly. The tests are carried out by AMEs (aviation medical examiners). Once you satisfy the criteria, you will have enough time to obtain your medical certificate.

Certificate of fitness for flight under ‘a’ condition

The only physical condition under which you can still get a certificate of fitness for flight is deafness. It includes people with severely impaired hearing abilities.

Deaf pilots have to fulfill specific conditions to get their medical certificate from the FAA. They have to go through a Special Medical Flight Test.

In this test, they will be evaluated for their abilities to handle the flight flawlessly despite their limitations.

They must demonstrate the ability to carry out the following without any hiccups:

  • Recognize engine power loss or failure by a change in vibrations and through instrument scanning
  • Identify an impending stall by using optical signals and aerodynamic buffet
  • Identifying retractable gear emergencies by keeping an eye on the gear warning lights

Upon successful completion of the tests, the FAA will issue (1). a second-class or third-class medical certificate and (2). a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA).

However, keep in mind that pilots with hearing impairments are not allowed to do everything that a pilot without hearing issues can. For instance, they are not allowed to fly on routes where radio communication is indispensable.

How to get FAA medical certificate

How do pilots stay fit?


Getting the FAA medical certificate can be a long process. However, the steps are clearly laid out. Only an FAA-authorized Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) can give you the green signal for a medical certificate.

You will be tested by an AME before you get your medical certificate for taking charge of a flight.

In the first step, budding pilots must use MedXPress to submit the first part of their application. Once you do that, you need to schedule an appointment with an AME in your proximity.

Once you get to the scheduled appointment, the Aviation Medical Examiner will perform thorough checkups and tests. If he or she is satisfied, they will issue you the medical certificate.

This medical certificate will state that you are physically capable of flying. However, this certificate does not automatically make you a professional pilot.

Why do pilots need perfect teeth?

Some space agencies, like Europe’s ESA, require pilots to have perfect teeth. However, the same criterion is not necessary for commercial flight pilots. This is applicable for very specific fighter pilots and astronauts only.

In space flights and flights where the pilots have to go through extreme G-force, having bad teeth can be a serious issue. If there are fillers, caps, etc. in the pilot’s mouth, they can come off and cause problems.

Keeping these extreme safety scenarios in mind, some authorities have banned space pilots with bad teeth.

But this doesn’t have any effect on the rules and regulations for commercial pilots. Even if you do not have perfect teeth, you can still be a commercial flight pilot and take both passengers and cargo.

Nonetheless, it’s better if you have perfect teeth.

Pilot Glasses requirements

If you have any vision problems, you are mandated to wear corrective glasses when flying as a pilot. Major vision issues automatically disqualify you from being a pilot.

But for several minor issues, you must wear glasses or contacts at all times while on the flight.

Monovision glasses and contacts are prohibited by the FAA. These glasses can cause problems in binocular vision and poses a risk factor.

The FAA also requires pilots who need glasses to carry an extra pair at all times. If you do not have an extra pair of prescription glasses, you will not be allowed to fly under the FAA.

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FAQ relating to how pilots stay fit

Here are answers to some of the most common pilot fitness questions:

How do airline pilots stay in shape?

Pilots generally follow all the basic principles of staying fit. They drink lots of water, work out regularly, and eat healthily.

While on duty, they prefer having fresh fruits and fruit juices as snacks instead of unhealthy munchies.

Do pilots need to be physically fit?

Yes, pilots need to be physically fit. They do not need the fitness levels of an Olympic athlete, but all pilots must fulfill some basic fitness criteria.

Failing to do that can lead to the cancellation of their pilot licenses. More importantly, it poses a safety risk to anyone on the flight.

How do pilots not get tired?

Pilots do get tired, but they are better at recovering from fatigue. Drinking enough water and staying hydrated is the bare minimum for all pilots.

Pilots also have to spend a lot of time in hotel rooms due to the nature of their job. They tend to exercise in their hotel rooms and get good sleep no matter what.

Doing these things allow pilots to overcome their fatigue and tiredness.

How physically fit are fighter pilots?

Fighter pilots are typically as fit as any other division of the army. Compared to commercial pilots, their fitness levels are much higher.

Not only are they trained to fly under extreme conditions, but also to defend their teams in wars and conflicts.

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