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The Healthiest Seats on the Plane

Digital Vision / Thinkstock

Sitting by a window might provide some solitude when stuck on an airplane, but for obese flyers, that seat can be deadly. Recently released guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians, which focused on blood clot prevention, warn that a window seat increases a person’s risk of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), clots that typically form in the legs.

DVT is triggered by long periods of immobility (around 4 hours or more), which is why the condition is closely associated with airplane flights and other forms of long-distance travel. And people are often hesitant to disrupt their neighbors and exit their window seat, making the confinement even more restrictive.

Dehydration caused by the dry air in airplanes can thicken blood, and the low cabin pressure, combined with immobility in cramped seats, can cause blood to collect in the legs. Swelling, tenderness, warmth, discoloration, or redness in the lower legs may be signs of DVT. Unfortunately, only half of people who have DVT have any symptoms.

The researchers emphasize that this window-seat warning is mainly for obese flyers and others with compounding risk factors for blood clots, such as people who’ve previously had a clot, pregnant travelers, and the elderly. A healthy adult faces a much smaller risk of DVT.

But regardless of how fit you are, pick an aisle seat whenever possible. It’s best to get up once every hour during a long flight and walk the aisle. Also wear loose-fitting clothing and limit alcohol and caffeine, which may contribute to dehydration. If you have risk factors for DVT, your doctor may advise you to wear compression stockings while traveling long distances. Or, he or she may suggest that you take a blood-thinning medicine before traveling. Broach the topic with your family physician before your next getaway.

What’s more, the American Council on Exercise recommends performing the below movements to keep your blood moving while in-flight:

  • Ankle rotations: Lift your feet off the floor and draw a circle with your toes, trying to get a full range of motion through your ankle. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Foot lifts: Alternate keeping your toes on the floor and lifting your heels with keeping your heels on the floor and lifting your toes.
  • Knee lifts: Sitting straight up, keep your knee bent and lift your thigh so that you’re flexing at the hip. Alternate legs.
  • Toe curls: Curl your toes and release. Also try pressing your toes down against the floor or just wiggling them inside your shoes.

Tags: Health, Travel, Disease