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Exercises to Stop Your Legs From Clotting on Airline Flights

author image Susan Lundman
Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.
Exercises to Stop Your Legs From Clotting on Airline Flights
Move around at least once every hour. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When you sit for a long time, whether on long car trips or airline flights, your risk of developing a blood clot increases. According to the American Council on Exercise, deep vein thrombosis typically originates in the legs. The website adds that DVT is sometimes called "economy class syndrome," because cramped airline seats offer little room to stretch. Simple exercises, done each hour during a plane flight, help to keep your blood flowing and reduce your risk of developing clots.

Why Clots Form

Clots form when clumps of blood, tissue, fat or air bubbles get stuck or wedged in your arteries. The clots become life-threatening when they break free and lodge in the lungs, heart or brain. According to the American Council on Exercise, 4 to 5 percent of high-risk individuals, such as pregnant women, people who have recently had surgery, people older than 40 and those with conditions such as cancer, heart disease or obesity, may develop clots during flights that last longer than 10 hours.

Leg Exercises in Your Seat

Begin by clenching and widening your toes 10 times. Do ankle exercises by circling your foot clockwise and counterclockwise 10 times for each foot. Do toe and heel lifts for another 10 times each. With your feet flat, bend forward slowly by pulling in your abdomen and walking your fingers along your thighs and down your calves to your ankles. Hold for 15 seconds before slowly sitting back up. Do five repetitions. Repeat the entire sequence of exercises once each hour.

Standing Leg Exercises

Exercise your calves by standing in the aisle and lifting yourself on your toes, holding for a count of three. Hold on to a seat back for balance. Stretch your thighs by standing on one leg and bending your other leg behind you. Grab your ankle and pull your heel towards your buttock, keeping your torso upright and straight. Hold for a count of 10. Alternate side leg lifts, keeping your leg straight and doing 10 repetitions.

Upper Body Stretches

Do these exercises either in your seat or while standing in the aisle. Bring both arms over your head. Grab your left wrist with your right hand and gently pull it to the right. Hold for 15 seconds and switch. Drop your shoulders and roll your neck slowly clockwise, then counterclockwise. Repeat five times. Roll your shoulders clockwise and counterclockwise five times.

Other Ways to Prevent Clots

Before traveling, put on support or compression stockings to increase circulation, and talk to your doctor about taking a blood thinner, such as heparin, if you are at a high risk for DVT. Simply getting up and walking up and down the airplane’s aisle at least once per hour is an easy precaution to prevent DVT. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating. Avoid decongestants and sleeping aids, which also tend to make you dehydrated.

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