Whether it’s planes or trains, sitting for a long period of time when you travel can have negative implications for your veins. You chances of suffering from deep vein thrombosis (DVT; a blood clot forming in a vein deep within muscle) increase, and you experience conditions you’re not used to everyday that can contribute to a variety of other conditions. We’ve put together a list of ways you can help prevent and maintain healthy veins on trips, ranging from diet advice to in-your-seat exercises.
Prepare for the trip appropriately
The weeks before your trip are important. Eat healthy, avoid smoking, and visit the doctor if you haven’t in a while. Your doctor can let you know if you’re at greater risk than others of experiencing a blood clot. This can be due to several factors ranging from having a history or genetic predisposition to them to use of oral contraceptives or pregnancy. You can also ask your doctor about medication or other forms of treatment (i.e. blood thinners) if you are at risk of developing clots.
Walk for 5-10 minutes every 1-2 hours you’ve been seated. This helps the circulation of blood in your legs. Change positions often and do plenty of seated leg and ankle exercises. One good exercise to begin with is the “œtoe raise”? in which you work the shin muscles in the front of your leg. You repeatedly lift your toes and front of your feet off the floor. If possible also try to do this when you take breaks from sitting to walk around the plane or train.
The next in seat exercise you should follow up with is active ankle movements. You pump your ankle up and down, while also pretending to write out the entire alphabet using your toes. This can also help reduce swelling due to poor circulation.
Finally if you have the space for this, attempt the seated calf raise. You raise your heel while seating, and bend your knee while doing so.
Airplanes have very low humidity, which dehydrates you. The fact that you can’t take liquids through security at airports does not help the effect travel can have on your water intake. Dehydration can have dangerous effects on your veins. Drink both water and electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade. Try to keep a water bottle with you so you can drink water consistently throughout the trip and maintain hydration. Poor hydration also contributes to a multitude of cardiovascular disease such as tachycardia, low blood pressure, and vasoconstriction (the tightening and narrowing of blood vessels to increase blood pressure). The latter condition can worsen health conditions for travelers who have diabetes as well.
Wear compression stockings
Compression stockings constantly squeeze the legs and help drive blood back to the heart, preventing blood clots. They are worn around your lower legs, and increase the velocity at which blood travels through your veins. The stockings compress the veins, muscles, and arteries at the surface of your legs. As a result, the blood is forced to use narrower circulation channels, resulting in increased blood returning to the heart.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Both these substances contribute to dehydration. Avoid alcohol for at least a few days prior to and caffeine the day of the trip. It can be tempting when some airlines offer complimentary open bar service, but consider that you’re paying in terms of your health. Whether taken in small or large quantities, both these substances can cause chronic and acute changes to your blood pressure as well. These changes can further contribute to poor vein health during long trips.
Wear loose-fitting clothes
Clothes that aren’t loosely fitting will constrict blood flow. The only thing that you should be wearing that might be tight is your compression stockings. This means no skinny jeans (as good as they might look) or other articles of clothing that slow your blood flow. This also applies to feet, which can tend to swell for those who suffer from poor blood circulation. In that case wear flip flops, loose shoes, or slippers if possible.
Avoid crossing your legs
This also constricts blood flow and increases pressure in your veins. For this same reason don’t sit on your legs either. Keep them straight or extended as much as you can, and don’t stay in the same position for too long a time.
For those of you who work sitting for long hours, these tips aren’t limited to just travel. Use them both in the workplace and 45,000 feet in the air. Integrating these tips into your daily lifestyle at home and abroad can help you improve your vein health in the long term.