by Henry Scammell, WTA Member and Writer
"Dying of boredom" can be far more than a
figure of speech for long-distance air travelers who don't know how to
avoid the deadly risks of blood clotting. The problem, usually undetected,
may affect one such traveler in 10.
Clotting can result from dehydration,
combined with sitting in a cramped position for prolonged periods. It may
be abetted by cabin pressure and recycling of stale air.
Here's how it works. Lack of mobility can
cause the blood to "pool," the familiar and uncomfortable phenomenon in
which inertia and gravity combine to force disproportionate amounts of
blood to collect in the lower extremities. If it just sits there and
doesn't circulate as nature intended, it thickens and can eventually form
clots. Most clots dissolve without causing detectable harm. But if one of
them circulates as far as the lungs or brain, it can get stuck and rupture
the artery, causing sometimes fatal bleeding.
Short-distance travelers may experience
the 'nervous legs' associated with blood pooling, although seldom with a
serious result. But the longer you ignore it, the worse it gets, and the
decision to 'tough it out,' perhaps alright on a trip from Boston to New
York, can be all wrong on a 6-18 hour journey across the ocean or around
So, you ask, what steps can be taken to
avoid this risk or to lessen its effects? You clever rascal, you've
clearly anticipated one of the more obvious answers. But there are other
things you can do beyond the very good idea of just getting up and walking
around the airplane. It's one of those problems where the best solution is
a combination of raising the bridge and lowering the river.
First of all, don't behave in a way that
encourages dehydration. Keep away from caffeine and alcohol directly
before and during a long flight. Don't eat salty foods. Don't depend on
the airline's coach-class beverage service to provide you with the kinds
or quantities of liquids your body needs. Some sodas can dry you out as
fast as gin.
Drink lots of water (bring it with you) -
a couple of quarts isn't overdoing it on a trip from New York to London.
If you're one of those shy souls who hates to walk up and down the aisle
for no other purpose than to keep your blood flowing (the legs are as good
a pump as the heart), those two quarts of liquid will give your sorties a
legitimate purpose and a familiar destination.
The water will thin your blood, of
course, but if you don't like drinking that much, you can get a similar
result with aspirin. Thinner blood means lower risk of clotting.
You can also stretch, do yoga and perform
other exercises right in your seat. Some airlines even offer such aids as
inflatable footrests for this purpose. And some ignore the problem
entirely. That leaves the solution up to you.