Why airlines encourage movement when flying

Sep 11, 2019

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Browse the in-flight magazine and you will see the same section repeated each month regarding movement in the air. Some airlines even have some exercise videos to show you the best movements to keep the circulation going, making you feel less stiff and more comfortable on your journey. These exercises haven’t been updated much since the ’90s when Mr. Motivator was doing inflight exercises on an Air Tours Charter Airbus. So, is there anything else to do on a flight, and why do we get told to keep moving in the first place?

Why do we need to move?

Airlines are mostly concerned about passengers’ safety and therefore advise movement to limit risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT is when a blood clot forms in the body — usually in a leg — and is dangerous because it can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE is where DVT breaks off and moves into the lungs, depriving the body of the oxygen and blood supply that it needs and causing permanent tissue damage.

Sitting for a long period of time increases the chance of DVT due to slow blood circulation as well as dry cabin air and long periods of inactivity. Airlines not only have a duty to inform passengers about risk of DVT, they need to ensure they are doing their best in educating passengers on movement during air travel.

How do I prevent DVT?


  • Go to the gym or attend a yoga class before your flight. This can support circulation and prevent a blood clot forming. No time? Then do something at the gate, lounge or anywhere comfortable at the airport. It’s important to stretch your calves, hamstrings and hips before a flight.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before you fly. Stick to one alcoholic drink and ensure you have consumed 500 millilitres to 1 litre of water pre-flight to support hydration levels.
  • Ditch the salty food at the airport, as this can make you dehydrated. It’s good to load up on fruit and vegetables pre-flight, which support hydration.

At check-in

  • Ask for a bulkhead or exit row seat for extra legroom so you can stretch your legs.

During flight

  • Move as often as you can. Perhaps after each TV show or movie, get up and walk around the cabin and stretch.
  • Do not cross your legs, which can limit blood flow.
  • Stay hydrated, drink 3 litres of water on your trip and try to limit alcohol as much as possible.
  • Avoid tight clothing and keep some comfortable clothes in your carry on to change into after boarding.
  • Stretch your legs and feet as often as you can while sitting down.
  • Uttanasana (standing forward bend) and Warrior I Pose are perfect yoga poses for flights. Practice at home before you fly and find a place on the plane to do these stretches a few times on the flight.
  • Wear compression socks if you’re at a high risk for DVT.


  • If your flight arrives early enough, get to the gym that day and focus on stretching your whole body. If you can’t get to the gym, then try to get out for a long walk. It’s not good to go straight to bed after a long flight and hours of inactivity.
  • Keep up with the hydration. It’s just as important to keep hydrated in the first few hours after a flight. Hydration decreases chance of a clot forming or increasing in size if already developed.

Are there any foods that can help?

Garlic — Perhaps a good food to eat before flying, as it can have some blood-thinning properties.

Olive Oil — Phenols in virgin olive oil can help prevent blood clots. A study in the American Journal of Nutrition showed that those who consumed olive oil had lower levels of a substance that promotes blood clots.

Ginger — Contains an acid called salicylate, which Asprin is derived from. Simply take ginger teabags on board with you and make into a tea.

Wild Salmon — Omega 3 may help lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol, triglycerides and inflammation. All of these play a role in preventing blood clots.

Turmeric — A wonder spice that may help improve the the lining of the blood vessels, and improve ability to regulate blood pressure and blood clotting, lessening the risk of DVT.

Cayenne — Contains high amounts of salicylates, which may help lower blood pressure, thin the blood and increase circulation. This would make fajitas a good post-flight meal choice.

Spinach, kale, kiwi, almonds, tomato, mango, and broccoli — All are rich in vitamin E, which are natural blood thinners.
Be mindful if you have been prescribed blood thinners, as some foods and supplements can interact with the medication, lessening its effect. For example, large amounts of green leafy vegetables should be avoided if on a blood thinner.

What kind of supplements help?

Nattokinase is considered to be a safe and powerful supplement that demonstrates support for DVT and cardiovascular diseases. It comes from Natto, a fermented soybean product and has been consumed as a traditional food in Japan for thousands of years. You can either buy the food, which is an acquired taste, or the supplement is widely available online.

Pine Bark may support DVT long-term by improving leg swelling and circulation by increasing nitric oxide in the body, which regulates vascular function and helps reduces thrombotic risks.

Both of these supplements can be taken together, as they have both been shown to work together in a study to prevent DVT. Passengers were given a combination of Nattokinase and pine bark extract or a placebo when flying from New York to London. The passengers taking the combination had zero DVT and less leg swelling compared to the placebo where seven passengers developed DVT and increased leg swelling.

Whilst supplements can be very effective, you should be careful with taking supplements as they may interfere with medications that you are prescribed. Speak to a health professional before taking any supplements.

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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