2 years ago, we lost a dear friend (and Hercules crew member) who died unexpectedly of a deep vein thrombosis after a 6 hour flight. Although I had heard about the risks and the importance of doing some exercises during the flight, I must say that her sudden death wasn’t only a shock, but also a wake-up call.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially life-threatening disorder in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the body, particularly the legs. DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), when a clot breaks free and lodges in a lung. If the clot is large enough, it can cause sudden death. The concern on DVT has been growing in recent years after several cases were attributed to long flights.
It’s true: There are few worse places for your wellbeing than an airplane where you can be trapped in a seated position for hours. Yet, it’s the holiday period and millions of travellers are using this transportation to go to their favourite destination.
According to fitness organisation ACE, who is most susceptible:
- People with cancer, chronic heart or respiratory failure, or an inherited or acquired predisposition to clotting, obesity or varicose veins;
- Those who recently have had major surgery, have been bed-ridden or have suffered a blow to the leg;
- Women who are pregnant, who’ve recently had a child, who are taking contraceptives or who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy;
- People 40 years and older may also be at increased risk
Approximately four to five percent of high risk individuals may suffer DVT on flights of 10 hours or more. Swelling, tenderness, discoloration or redness in the lower legs may be signs of DVT. Unfortunately, however, there are often no symptoms at all.
Whether you’re a tourist who only flies a few times per year or a frequent flyer, you might want to consider trying a few flight-friendly exercises or poses to reverse some of the damaging effects of extended periods of sitting.
These are the simple routines that I do personally during in flight, in remembrance of my friend:
- I drink lots and lots of water, sometimes with an aspirin. I buy a bottle of water at the airport and I ask for an extra glass of water whenever I can;
- I always limit the use of alcohol and caffeine, because that may contribute to dehydration;
- I make sure that I can walk around a bit every hour, without disturbing other passengers;
- I only sleep only for short periods;
- I do simple stretching exercises when seated;
- I always have a look at the in-flight documentation with tips on how to move. Some airlines even have a video with exercises.
The typical airlines recommendations that you will find in your seat pocket can be of great help:
- Ankle turns: Lift your feet off the floor and move your toes in a circle, one foot moving clockwise and the other foot moving counterclockwise. Change direction and repeat.
- Foot lifts: Place your heels on the floor and bring your toes up as high as you can. Then put both feet back flat on the floor. Then pull your heels up while keeping the balls of your feet on the floor.
- Knee lifts: While keeping your knee bent, raise your leg while tensing your thigh muscle. Repeat 20 to 30 times, alternating legs.
- Shoulder rolls: Raise your shoulders and then move them forward, downward and then backward in a smooth circular movement.
- Arm bends: Start with your elbows on the armrests and your hands pointed forward so that your lower and upper arms make a 90-degree angle. Take turns moving your left and then your right hand toward your chest and back, and continue for 30 seconds.
- Knee to chest: Bend slightly forward. Fold your hands together around your left knee and pull it toward your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds and let your knee drop slowly. Change legs and repeat.
- Neck roll: Relax your shoulders, let your head drop to your right shoulder and roll your head slowly to the front and then to your left side. Repeat five times.
If you’re about to fly to one of your favourite holiday destinations, I recommend you to take some of these tips on board.
Enjoy your flight, as travelling is the best medicine.