If you’ve ever been bumped up to first class on an airplane, what’s the first thing you do when you sit down? No, I’m not talking about asking for a glass of the free champagne – but hey, treat yourself!
The first thing most people do is stretch out. On a long flight, that extra foot of leg room is as precious as water in the desert, and with good reason! After all, economy seating on long-haul flights is one of the first risk factors recognized for deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
A Brief History of DVT
DVT truly first became prevalent during WWII, when an unprecedented number of people developed clots from long, immobile periods hiding in air-raid shelters. After the war was over, international air travel rose quickly to what we know it as today, with hundreds of planes in the air as you read this.
As diagnoses of DVT rose in connection with long-haul flights, doctors quickly made the connection to immobility. In both cases, people had been sitting for several hours, with limited room for stretching and readjustment.
What is the Risk for DVT?
John Pasi, a professor at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, made the risk clear when he explained, “Sitting immobile for 90 minutes reduces blood flow in the leg by 40 per cent, predisposing it to DVT.”
Sitting down for long periods of time literally slows down blood flow in your legs. And blood that’s static is blood that clots.
However, DVT isn’t the thing that will actually kill you. Rather, it’s when those clots break off and travel back up to your lungs that you’re in trouble. These clots can lead to pulmonary embolism, which blocks the flow of blood to your lungs and causes shortness of breath and, in many cases, death.
You may be thinking, “Okay, but that doesn’t apply to me. I don’t go on long flights and I certainly don’t hide in air raid shelters.” True, but answer me this: How many shows have you binge-watched on Netflix? How many Overwatch campaigns do you complete in a day? How many hours a week do you spend scrolling through Facebook or watching cat videos on Youtube?
All this is in addition to those of you who work “sedentary” jobs at a desk! It turns out, the average American now spends about 70% of their waking time sitting. That is just over 117 hours per week! Doctors have a name for this new age of DVT: they call it “e-thrombosis.” Catchy, huh?
Now, read this part like it’s the end of a medication infomercial: Other risk factors for DVT include being a woman, being on the pill, genetic predisposition, obesity, cancer, smoking, heart failure, inflammatory bowel diseases like Celiac Disease, age, being pregnant and having surgery. Patients with any of these risk factors may be prescribed anticoagulant like Xarelto or Pradaxa to help reduce clotting factors in the blood. Beware, though, as blood thinner side effects can be serious! For example, Xarelto has no approved antidote to reverse it’s effects, leading patients to file lawsuits by the thousands against Bayer and Johnson & Johnson.
Other Sedentary Lifestyle Risks
Of course, DVT isn’t the only risk of a sedentary lifestyle. People who spend long periods sitting, whether or not they’re staring at a screen, are acting in opposition to what evolution spent centuries molding our bodies to do: move.
We may not be on the run from wild animals or engaging in swordplay during tribal disputes, but the human body is designed for an active lifestyle. When we choose to spend our time sitting instead, our muscles can atrophy, our bones lose their strength, and our basal metabolic rate suffers, leading to increased risks for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, a lack of physical activity can have a serious impact on mental health. Studies have shown that increased screen and sitting time are associated with a significantly higher risk of developing depression.
Simple Solution: Get Moving!
Luckily, there are some easy things you can do to decrease the risks of a sedentary lifestyle.
The most seemingly obvious is to switch out some of that screen time with physical activity. However, please be aware that jumping off your couch and into a P90X class is NOT the right way to solve this problem, for two reasons. First, you will probably hurt yourself if you try to go from a very lightly active lifestyle to a highly active one too quickly. If you want to get into exercising seriously, take your time and start slow to greatly reduce the likelihood of injury. Second, exercise can only take up so much of your day. A one-hour class in the evening does not negate the eight hours you spent sitting at your desk – DVT just doesn’t work that way.
If you work a desk job or can’t give up on your newest Netflix obsession, there are still things you can do. First off, take a break. Getting up once an hour, stretching and walking around the office or your apartment helps to keep the blood moving! Plus, it gives a small mental break that can help you keep your focus when you sit back down. If you don’t want to pause, try a standing desk, or even better, a treadmill desk! It sounds like a pain, but it’s a great option that keeps you moving, promotes cardiac health and keeps your muscles working all day long!
Okay, I’m done. If I’m right, you just spent about 15 minutes staring at a screen to read this, and you’re probably sitting too. So get up and stretch! Walk around! Go! Go now!