How to stop your legs from swelling on a long flight

While long-haul flights usually mean that you’re going on a great new adventure, for many of us, there’s an unfortunate side effect that comes with it: swollen legs and ankles. Many long-distance travellers tend to experience this while on any mode of transport for more than 4 hours, but it can be worse during a long flight. While slight swelling caused by temporary poor circulation and decreased movement is harmless, occasionally, swelling can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where a blood clot forms in a lower leg vein.

Unless you are at risk for DVT, if you’re older, overweight, have a history of blood clots or have recently undergone surgery, leg swelling is a temporary, uncomfortable and easily preventable condition. Here’s how to stop your legs from swelling while on a long flight.

1. Take a walk

It might sound obvious but the best thing to do to decrease your risk of a blood clot on a long flight is to get up and walk around the cabin once the seatbelt sign is turned off, at least once each hour. Walk up and down the aisles and before you’re seated, request an aisle seat at the check-in as you will have more leg room to stretch out. If nothing else, walk to the restroom and back as often as possible.

2. Wear compression stockings and loose-fitting clothing

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If you have had a DVT scare before, you will want to make sure you wear compression stockings to improve blood flow in your calves. Special stockings provide pressure that’s strongest at the ankle and gradually decreases up to the knee or thigh. Below the knee is usually sufficient, but if you had a blood clot that extended above the knee into the thigh, then thigh compression stockings are also advised. Also, wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing that doesn’t bind during your trip. Remember, you can always change clothes as you get closer to your destination.

3. Do in-flight exercises in your seat

Here are a few exercises you can try to ensure more circulation:

  • Ankle Circles: Lift feet off the floor. Draw a circle with the toes, simultaneously moving one foot clockwise and the other foot counterclockwise. Reverse the circles, rotate in each direction for 15 seconds, then repeat if desired.
  • Foot Pumps: Start with both heels on the floor and point your feet upward as high as you can. Put both feet flat on the floor. Lift your heels high, keeping the balls of your feet on the floor. Repeat these three stages in a continuous motion and in 30-second intervals.
  • Knee Lifts: Lift your leg with knee bent while contracting your thigh muscle. Alternate legs. Repeat 20 to 30 times for each leg.
  • Neck Roll: With shoulders relaxed, drop ear to shoulder and gently roll neck forward and back, holding each position about five seconds. Repeat five times.
  • Shoulder Roll: Hunch shoulders forward, then upward, then backward, and downward, using a gentle circular motion.

4. Stay hydrated

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As we all know, over 60s are at a high risk of dehydration as their bodies struggle to retain water and they lose their sense of thirst. Keeping hydrated is even more crucial up in the air, so drink water once an hour and avoid alcohol.

5. Ginger and turmeric root

Take along some ginger lollies and turmeric supplements. Ginger can help jumpstart blood flow, as can turmeric root, which has anti-inflammatory properties. These two in unison can create a very nice rhythm in your blood flow and will help to flush out any toxins.

Other foods that are great for circulation are carrots, avocados, tomatoes, squash, and other root vegetables.

Do you have issues with circulation, particularly with your legs? What do you do to prevent it? Let us know in the comments section.

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