Being a pilot is one of the most rewarding and highly skilled careers anyone can pursue, regardless of whether it is commercial, military, or even private. You have the chance to travel and experience the thrill of flying, as well as be well paid, particularly if you are an experienced pilot.
However, there are also a lot of risks that come with being a pilot, and some people may not be aware of the various health problems faced by people who fly regularly.
Besides the inherent risk that comes with flying and all the possible hazards that may befall an aircraft, pilots are often exposed to conditions that can have an adverse effect on their health both physically and mentally.
Pilots face a surprising variety of health problems, and the glamourous image of a well-dressed jet-setting captain is often far from the reality of this profession.
Pilots can suffer from the effects of; stress, fatigue, sleep deprivation, circadian rhythm disruption, musculoskeletal disorders, and hearing loss which can have a variety of effects on a pilot’s body and mind.
For example, the stress of a pilot’s responsibilities and lifestyle can lead to physical tension, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, fear and anxiety disorders, irritability, and even depression.
The jet lag of repeated flying can also cause fatigue and circadian rhythm disruption which not only makes pilots more prone to mistakes and errors but has also been linked to cancer, digestive issues, and mental health issues.
These are just some of the health problems that being a pilot can expose you to, and it is in stark contrast to the cultural attitude towards pilots as jovial custodians of the skies. They are in fact often overworked, underappreciated, and face dealing with a long list of complications from repeated flights.
Are Pilots Healthy?
This really depends on a variety of factors that are too numerous to give a solid answer. If a pilot practices good healthy habits, such as eating healthily, exercising, and generally maintaining good health practices, there is no reason why a pilot should be more unhealthy than anyone else.
That being said, there are certain risks that are associated with flying, some of which have already been highlighted. We’re going to look at these in a bit more detail and look at how pilots can try to prevent serious illness and protect themselves, their livelihood, and their passengers.
One of the most common problems pilots face is the risk of cancer due to ionizing radiation and exposure to sunlight. This is one of the realities of flying at high altitudes regularly, the atmosphere is far thinner and isn’t able to protect from the sun and cosmic radiation as well as it does at ground level.
Imagine how easy it is to get sunburned at the beach on a sunny day. Now imagine how easy it is for this to happen flying at a much higher altitude, where the sun’s radiation has to penetrate far less atmosphere.
Pilots should thus never underestimate the importance of wearing strong sunscreen to prevent the most damaging UV rays, and make use of both their visors and eye protection to prevent cataracts and other eye injuries from the sheer brightness of the sun at altitude.
Pilots should also strive to maintain a good work-life balance to help reduce stress and prevent anxiety.
There is also the risk of spending long periods seated and doing repetitive motions, activities that can lead to various conditions from thrombosis to musculoskeletal issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, or even back pain.
As such pilots should strive to remain at a good level of physical fitness and try to adopt seating positions that minimize the chance of developing conditions of this nature.
Finally, when it comes to repeated jet lag and its awful effects on human health, pilots should try to reduce the number of long-distance flights they pilot, particularly routes that traverse time zones. Adopting good sleeping practices to maintain a healthy sleep rhythm is also highly important, and pilots should strive to keep as normal a schedule as possible.
Is Being a Pilot Bad for Your Health?
To summarise, being a pilot definitely has implications for your health and your quality of life. However almost every profession will have an effect on these things, and there is no escaping this fact. What is important is that you take steps to ensure that no lifestyle choice has an unchecked, unbalanced effect on your health.
While pilots are exposed to novel risks thanks to the unique nature of their profession, there are many ways to ensure that piloting can be a fulfilling and safe profession that is as rewarding as it is challenging. It is the responsibility of both pilots, passengers, and other professionals in the industry to be open about the risks and the best ways to minimize them as much as possible.