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Skywalkers

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 the world.

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.