Long plane rides can be fun. The movies, the snacks, the interesting seatmates . . . you never know what might happen!
But flights can also have downsides—particularly when they present health risks to older folks. One of these risks, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is a condition in which blood clots form in veins. DVT can lead to a pulmonary embolism, a blockage in the lung caused by an escaped blood clot.
Because high altitude, dehydration, and lack of movement all contribute to the onset of DVT, it’s often linked to airplane travel and has been nicknamed “economy class syndrome.” Fortunately, there are ways to prevent it.
Walking around the plane every 60 to 90 minutes is one of the best preventative measures. But because that sort of movement isn’t always possible (when the seatbelt sign is lit during a bumpy flight, for example), here are some stationary exercises you can do while sitting in your chair with your seatbelt on!
- Hand squeeze: Squeeze a sock until your hand is tired. (You can also do this exercise with a tennis ball, but most people don’t have one of those in their carry-on bags!)
- Ankle turns: Lift your feet from the floor and rotate one ankle clockwise and the other counterclockwise for 20-30 seconds. Switch directions and repeat.
- Spinal flex: Sit up straight and arch your back, moving your spine forward and then back. Repeat 10 times. (We all tend to slouch a lot, and this exercise is a great way to channel your inner cat and work on your posture a bit.)
- Shoulder stretch: With your right hand, grasp your outstretched left arm right above the elbow. Pull your left arm toward your right shoulder and hold for 15 seconds, the switch arms. Repeat 3 times on each side every hour.
- Foot lifts: Pretend that your feet are miniature rocking horses. Plant your feet on the floor, then keep your heels on the ground and lift your toes as high as they can go. Bring your toes back to the floor, then keep the balls of your feet planted while you lift your heels up. Repeat 10 times.
- Shoulder rolls: Shrug your shoulders, then move them in a circular motion that goes forward, down, back, and up to the starting position. Repeat the movement in the opposite direction. Do 10 rolls in each direction.
- Knee lifts: With your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, raise one leg while tightening your thigh muscle, then lower it and do the same with the other leg. Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times for each leg.
- Neck roll: Release your shoulders. Drop your head to your right shoulder, roll it across the front of your body and over to your left shoulder, then move it across the front again back to your right shoulder. Repeat 10 times. (Note: don’t roll your head backwards, because that compresses your cervical spine and may lead to other problems.)
So there you have it: some exercises to keep you healthy on a long flight! To make them even more effective at preventing DVT, you might also want to lay off the in-flight alcohol and drink water instead. Sorry, folks! I know that’s not as much fun as having a glass of wine or a martini, but it’s probably a wiser decision in the long run.