3 ways to exercise to prevent blood clots

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3 ways to exercise to prevent blood clots
3 ways to exercise to prevent blood clots

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more people die from blood clots than from breast cancer, HIV, and car accidents combined. Certain factors, such as age, weight, and general health, can put you at higher risk for a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clot. If left untreated, a part of the blood clot can break off and go to the lung, which can cause a pulmonary embolism. You can do exercises to prevent blood clots, mainly by walking regularly and stretching your legs, feet, and ankles to improve circulation.


Method 1 of 3: Prevent Blood Clots While Traveling

Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 3
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 3

Step 1. Stretch and move your legs frequently

Especially if you're traveling a long distance, be sure to take breaks to stretch your legs and keep the blood flowing. You can stretch while sitting or standing next to your seat.

  • One exercise you can do in the hallway or while sitting is stretching one leg in front of you. Bend your ankle, stretching your toes toward you. Hold this position for a few seconds, then let it go. Repeat this exercise several times, then do the same with the other leg.
  • Raise one knee to chest level while sitting. Hold this position for 15 seconds, then release it. Do the same with the other leg. Do up to 10 reps at a time to increase circulation in your legs.
  • Stretch the top of your foot and shin while sitting. Cross the left ankle over the right, pointing the toes of the left foot to the right. Bend your right knee and hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch.
  • Widen your hips (if you have room) from a seated position. Spread your legs and place your elbows on your thighs, leaning forward. Gently press forward until you feel the stretch in your thighs. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • On an airplane, look for airline-recommended exercises in magazines and brochures on the back of your seat.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 1
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 1

Step 2. Get up and move

Whether you travel by train, plane, or car, extended travel involves prolonged sitting. When you feel the circulation in your legs decreases, especially if you sit cross-legged or with one foot under you.

  • If you are on an airplane, try to get an aisle seat so that you can get up and move more easily.
  • Ideally, you should get up and stretch your legs or walk the aisle back and forth about once an hour.
  • As you sit, keep your feet directly in front of you or stretch them under the seat or in the aisle when you can, instead of crossing your legs.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 2
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 2

Step 3. Exercise your feet and ankles when sitting

In addition to occasionally walking in the aisle, there are exercises you can do to improve circulation in your legs and to keep your feet and ankles active without moving too much or disturbing other passengers.

  • Contracting and widening the toes increases blood flow to the feet, as does circling each foot clockwise and counterclockwise at the ankle.
  • Press hard on the floor with the ball of your foot, keeping your leg muscles active. This exercise increases blood circulation throughout the leg.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes and shoes that you can put on and take off while traveling. This measurement will allow you to stretch and move more easily.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 4
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 4

Step 4. Stop once every hour if you are driving

You may not think about the possibility of having a blood clot while in a car, as you have more power over the situation than when you are on a plane or other public transport. However, the risk is similar if you are sitting for a long period of time.

  • On long road trips, you can feel the pressure to "make a good time" and get to your destination as quickly as possible.
  • However, to prevent blood clots, it is important to stop frequently so that you can stretch your legs and walk a bit to get the blood circulating again.
  • You don't need to make a long stop. Five minutes in a rest area is enough to get the blood flowing again.
  • Combine exercise stops with regular trip stops to make them more efficient. For example, if you make a stop to refuel your car, walk around the car while the gas is pumping.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 5
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 5

Step 5. Identify the factors that put you at higher risk for developing blood clots

While anyone can get a blood clot, there are particular factors that increase your risk. Generally, people who develop blood clots while traveling have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • surgery or injury in the past three months (especially if they cause limited mobility, such as a leg cast)
  • family or personal history of blood clots
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • be over 40 years of age
  • hormonal variations (including contraceptive use, hormone replacement therapy, or pregnancy)
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 6
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 6

Step 6. Recognize the symptoms of clotting

Especially if you are at increased risk of developing a blood clot, you should know what to expect so that you can seek treatment immediately before the situation becomes life-threatening.

  • If you notice swelling in one leg or arm, this may indicate that you have a blood clot, especially if you have swelling in only one leg or arm, but the other limb seems fine.
  • The skin around the blood clot may be red and hot to the touch, and you may experience pain or tenderness.
  • Even if there is no swelling or redness, if you have pain in your leg or arm that you can't explain, you probably have a blood clot.
  • If you notice a fast or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you may have a pulmonary embolism. Seek medical treatment immediately.

Method 2 of 3: Exercising After Surgery

Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 7
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 7

Step 1. Consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer

Before surgery, speak with a physical health professional who has experience working with people recovering from the same type of surgery. This can help you come up with an exercise plan that best suits your body and your needs.

  • For example, if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer and are having a mastectomy, talk to a physical therapist or certified personal trainer who has worked with breast cancer survivors.
  • Your doctor should be able to refer you to reputable and experienced professionals who can help you get your exercise program on track after surgery.
  • If you already have an exercise routine that you enjoy, feel free to continue with this until the day of your surgery, as long as you have the energy to do so.
  • Ask your physical therapist or personal trainer to evaluate your current exercise routine. They can give you advice and show you modifications that will allow you to do the exercises you enjoy in your post-surgery routine.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 8
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 8

Step 2. Set aside time to heal

The amount of time your body will need to heal after surgery will depend on the type of surgery you have had. Any average healing time will also depend on your age, general health, and other personal factors.

  • Maintaining good circulation is essential to prevent blood clots after surgery; however, you will generally need three to four weeks to recover from any major surgery before you can begin a full-body exercise program.
  • If the surgery is local to a particular part of the body, you may be able to start doing exercises that work other parts of the body while you heal.
  • For example, if you've had leg surgery, you may be able to do upper-body muscle-strengthening exercises.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 9
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 9

Step 3. Get permission from a doctor

After surgery, talk to a doctor or surgeon before starting any exercise program. Even light or moderate exercise can cause complications that interfere with the healing process or put you at a higher risk of developing blood clots.

  • Describe the exercises you want to do in detail and make sure they don't prevent healing after surgery.
  • The doctor will also give you a list of any movement limitations after surgery. Some limitations, such as limitations on how much weight you can lift, will affect your ability to do muscle strengthening exercises.
  • Tell your doctor that your goal is to do exercises that prevent blood clots. This may have additional exercises that it can recommend to help you.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 10
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 10

Step 4. Start with stretching exercises

Stretching exercises can often begin within a few days after surgery. These exercises are designed to improve circulation (particularly in the area around the surgery) and to decrease scar tissue.

  • These stretching exercises are generally centered around the area of the surgery. For example, if you had a mastectomy due to breast cancer, you can begin exercising by raising the arm that is on the same side as the surgery above your head. Open and close your hands 15 or 20 times with your hand on your head. Then bend and straighten your elbow for the same number of reps.
  • This and other exercises are designed to drain lymphatic fluid, reduce swelling, and increase circulation to areas of the body affected by surgery.
  • The physical therapist may have a list of the daily stretching exercises that you are expected to do.
  • Physical therapy exercises are often boring and repetitive. If you have the approval of the physical therapist, feel free to supplement the prescribed stretches with activities that exercise the same range of motion and that you enjoy.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 11
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 11

Step 5. Take a walk every day to stay active

A few days after surgery, you will be able to take short, brisk walks. This allows you to gradually return to physical activity and do some cardiovascular exercise, which can improve circulation and prevent blood clots.

  • Don't expect to quickly get back to the same level of activity you were before your surgery. You are in recovery and your body uses its energy to heal itself.
  • Start with the lowest intensity possible and gradually increase it. For example, the first day you walk, you should walk for five minutes.
  • Don't go past five minutes until you feel comfortable increasing the duration to six minutes. Increase the duration slowly. Also, stay at the same level for several days before increasing the duration or intensity again.
  • If you have trouble breathing or feel chest pain or tightness, stop immediately.

Method 3 of 3: Exercising After a DVT

Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 12
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 12

Step 1. Do leg raises

Even if you are recovering from surgery or other DVT treatment, you can do leg raises while lying in bed. These lifts will improve circulation in your legs and help prevent blood clots in the future.

  • To perform leg lifts, lie on your back with your legs stretched out in front of you. Lift one leg a few inches off the bed and breathe deeply while holding this position for a few seconds.
  • Then lower your leg in a controlled motion. Do not drop your leg on the bed, but should lower it at approximately the same speed that you raised it. Also, if you have the strength, lower your leg very slowly. Just remember to keep breathing (don't hold your breath).
  • Repeat this exercise 10-20 times on each leg. Try to do this exercise three or four times a day.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 13
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 13

Step 2. Try to give yourself time to recover

In particular, if you have had surgery for DVT, it is important that your body has adequate time to heal. Even if the DVT was treated without surgery, recognize that you now have a higher risk of another blood clot.

  • If you've had surgery, it will usually take several weeks to recover before you can begin to do more vigorous exercise.
  • However, your doctor will generally recommend that you do what you can to get back on track as soon as possible.
  • Usually this includes bed rest for about an hour and then a short walk for a few minutes before returning to bed rest.
  • Your doctor may give you additional exercises to improve circulation in your legs.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 14
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 14

Step 3. Work with a physical therapist

If you have had surgery for DVT, a physical therapist will give you a list of exercises that you can safely do. These will improve your circulation and help you restore your strength and range of motion.

  • Get approval from your physical therapist before doing other exercises.
  • Be aware that very strenuous exercise after a DVT puts you at risk for another blood clot.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 15
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 15

Step 4. Try swimming

Swimming is a low-impact exercise to work the entire body. It improves circulation and, at the same time, allows you to do cardiovascular exercise. Even if you don't think you're a strong swimmer to spin around, hanging by the pool side and kicking can improve circulation in your legs.

  • Be careful not to overdo it. The low-impact nature of swimming can keep you from noticing that you've overdone yourself until you feel pain the next day.
  • Get permission from a doctor or physical therapist before you start a swimming program, even if it's just to be in the water for a few minutes a day.
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 16
Exercise to Prevent Blood Clots Step 16

Step 5. Stand up at least once every hour and walk at least once every two hours

Even if you are out of the recovery period after a DVT, you are still at higher risk of developing another blood clot. If you must travel or have a sedentary job, it is important that you remain as active as possible.

  • If you're at work, set an alarm or timer to rest every hour. When the alarm goes off, stand up and move for a few minutes to get the blood moving in your legs.
  • Every two hours, take a brisk walk around the office or outside. You can also do jumping jacks or running without moving from your place. This will make your heart race and improve your circulation to prevent blood clots.
  • Try to be active during the day. This can be difficult if you have a sedentary job, but try to stand up as much as possible.
  • For example, you can stand or walk while talking on the phone instead of sitting at your desk.


  • Talk to your family to find out if your parents, grandparents, or siblings have ever had deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. A family history of these disorders can increase your risk of developing blood clots.
  • Compression stockings can help prevent blood clots, especially if you travel.
  • If you are at risk of developing blood clots, wear loose-fitting clothing and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

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