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Exercises for Air Travel

exercises for air travel

Travel often involves extended flights. Long periods of time seated in a cramped atmosphere can lead to reduced movement. In addition to general discomfort, this immobility can lead to dangerous health events.

Excessive sitting has the potential to cause blood clots in the legs. This condition is referred to as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), sometimes also called traveler’s thrombosis. When blood pools in the legs, these clots can form which may have varying degrees of size and effects on health. Small clots often go unnoticed. Moderately sized clots can cause swelling, stiffness and pain.

Unfortunately, large clots can have life threatening consequences. The clot can break off and transfer to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism, also termed a venous thromboembolism (VTE). The effects of a pulmonary embolism may not result until hours after it has occurred. The signs include chest pain and shortness of breath. In some cases it may cause sudden death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently launched a project evaluating DVT and its relationship to air travel. The project, WHO Research Into Global Hazards of Travel (WRIGHT), is evaluating if higher risks of DVT and VTE are related to air travel versus other modes of transportation such as sitting in a car.

Preliminary research from the WRIGHT project indicates that the risk of VTE doubles for flights that last four hours or more. The risk increases as the flight time increases and can also be present in instances where travelers take several flights within a short time frame.

Move to Reduce Risk

Regular movement is advised during long flights to improve blood circulation. This can be done through standing and walking around the cabin every 60 to 90 minutes. Exercises performed in a seated position can also be beneficial in reducing the risks of DVT. Focus on the calf muscle may be related to increasing the blood flow in the legs and the prevention of clotting.

Many airlines provide suggestions and even explanations of exercises on their web-sites. Northwest Airlines provides a list of 10 possible movements complete with graphics for instruction.
A few examples of exercises that can improve blood flow include:

Ankle Circles

Slowly rotate the feet at the ankle in circles both clockwise and counter clockwise.

Seated Calf Raises

Start with the feet flat on the floor. Slowly raise the heels off the ground bringing the feet up on the toes. Lower the heels and press them into the floor and try to raise the toes off the ground.

Knee Raises

Lift the knees up towards the chest. This can be performed with both knees together or one at a time.

Reach

Raise the arms above the head and elongate the finger tips towards the ceiling, stretching the upper body.

Neck Stretch

Slowly drop the head to one side, almost to touch the shoulder. Circle the head to the front, chin to chest, and over to the other side.

More Tips

Travelers can incorporate additional practices during long flights for comfort and safety. Avoid tight fitting clothing when traveling. Garments should be loose and comfortable while seated. Also, increase leg room by removing items from under the seat in front. If there is no room in the overhead bin, pull the bag out and allow it to sit under the knees so that the legs can be stretched out. Air travel can be very dehydrating to the body. It is beneficial to regularly consume water and fruit juices throughout the duration of the flight.

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