June 19th, 2019

5 Easy Habits that Saved My Life (Literally)

When I was 37 years old, I had a near-death experience that could have been prevented with a few simple changes to my daily routine. When Julie Glover asked, What would your TED talk be?, this was my first thought. What my brush with death taught me, and the easy habits that can keep writers alive.

Back in 2005, I discovered gratitude. Like oh-my-stars-I-am-lucky-to-be-here gratitude.

I developed blood clots in both legs and the one in my right leg shattered, sending about fifty blood clots to my lungs. My doctors call me their "One-Percenter" and, yowza, I am so very lucky to be alive.

With so many Americans living sedentary lives, blood clots are on the rise. More than 900,000 cases occur each year in the United States. On average, one person in the U.S. dies every six minutes from a blood clot.

Extra Reading: More statistics on blood clots.

Why am I talking about this on a writing blog? Because writers, by the nature of their profession, often stay lost in their imagination and ignore some of the risk associated with our normal daily routines.

I'm not exaggerating with the title of this post, y'all.

Blood clots don't discriminate. They don't care about age or disorder, gender or race. I was a normal thirty-something, minding my own beeswax and doing kickboxing three times a week.

Did I find out I have a blood clotting disorder? Yes. But I was also engaging in some risky blood clot behavior:

  • Sitting long hours at a desk.
  • Drinking lots of coffee and not enough water.
  • Taking birth control pills.
  • Stressing out about a crazy work project.
  • I’d just put on a 5-10 pounds from the Pill and the aforementioned project.
  • I sat most of those long hours in a cold room with air conditioning blowing on me.
  • As a result, I was dehydrated.

Sound familiar? The list above could describe most writers.

Below, I describe the most risky everyday behaviors that we all do so you can be aware of them, and maybe even change some of them over time.

#1 – If you sit, drive or fly for long periods wear compression stockings!

I warn you, most of these are seriously unattractive, but they are getting better (especially for men). Compression socks/hose can be purchased in any medical supply store but now they’re also available on Amazon if you want them to come right to your door.

Any of you who see me at conferences or work? I always have “toes to bellybutton” compression hose on. It’s too painful for me to sit or drive for more than 20 minutes without them. It’s like someone is pouring hot acid down the inside of the veins in my legs.

(You see why you want to prevent blood clots?? They freaking hurt.)

Important note: If you’re traveling or having surgery, you need to increase your water intake before you do so.

In fact, if you are a clotter like me, flying works like this:

The day before I fly, I drink a gallon of water. No exceptions. I hate it. But I do it so I can be safe. I also:

  • Walk for 30 mins in the airport before I get on the plane.
  • Take a 20 ounce bottle of water onto the plane.
  • Drink only water and no alcohol on the flight.
  • Get up and walk the aisle every 30-40 minutes.
  • Bounce on my toes in the back of the plane while I wait for the restroom.
  • Do these exercises in transit to prevent blood clots from forming.

Oh yeah…I just adore flying nowadays. It’s not the TSA grope I dread, it’s the DVT prevention.

#2 – Keep your feet up as much as you can.

I have an 80 pound box of paper under my desk at work. Not because I need so much paper, but so I can put my legs up while I'm in the office.

Why is it vital to keep the back of your legs from pressing against hard edges? If factors like smoking, being on the Pill or sitting for long periods are part of your daily living, you are more likely to get a blood clot, even before you add any of the other risk factors like obesity, cancer, or a prior history of blood clots.

#3 – Exercise regularly.

I don’t care what you do, as long as you make the blood in your legs flow vigorously multiple times every day. Most people recommend taking a quick stroll every hour. Other ideas: Jump rope for a few minutes a couple times a day, walk for 15 minutes in the morning, bounce on a trampoline.

Your life is at stake here. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.

#4 – A glass of wine, particularly red, a few times a week is a good thing.

I’m not saying “booze it up,” especially if you have a problem with alcohol. But a periodic glass of red wine has been shown in studies to lower your cholesterol and inflammation and to prevent the development of blood clots.

Alcohol thins your blood, so I try to make sure I have a glass if I’m eating a lot of foods that are high in Vitamin K.

Extra reading: Vitamin K Food List

#5 – Lower the levels of inflammation in your body.

This one’s a doozy and no one talks about it.

Chronic, low-level inflammation is one of the top ten causes of death in America and leads to the development of at least 7 of the other top 10 causes of death. Chronic inflammation can be triggered by cellular stress and dysfunction, such as excessive calorie consumption and elevated blood sugar levels.

Lowering your intake of processed food and refined sugars will decrease your inflammation, as will discovering and treating any food allergies you might have.

Speaking of food allergies, click here to read about what gluten did to my body. (I found out I’m extremely gluten-intolerant at age 42.) The #1 thing gluten did was inflame me. It also swelled me up, stiffened my joints, raised my cholesterol and knocked out my thyroid.

You don't have to go crazy and give up a whole food group to lower your body's inflammation.

I use many dietary methods, such as using lime in my water (rather than lemon) and drinking apple cider vinegar, to lower my body’s inflammation levels.

The most ironic thing is that leafy green vegetables, although they thicken your blood, also lower the inflammation in your body. Here are 6 additional lifestyle changes that will lower your body’s inflammation.

Last of all, here’s a bonus easy behavior change for the ladies:
Stop crossing your legs!!

I know, I know. It’s habit…it makes your thighs look skinnier…it’s more lady-like.

Blah-blah-blah.

Who cares about those things if they give you a blood clot?? Maybe back in the day when people walked everywhere, women could cross their legs and dangle a high-heel from their toe, looking like a sexy dame from a black and white movie.

Nowadays? Not so much. Most of us have very sedentary jobs where we sit down a lot. Must you cross your legs too? (In other words, must you squeeze the large veins in your thighs and behind the knees, and cut off your blood flow?)

Note: if you wait tables or guide nature tours for a living, you’re welcome to ignore this suggestion and swing that high-heel from your toe any time you want.

That’s the highlights of what I know about how to prevent blood clots with everyday simple changes. I"m hoping this saves some lives and some angst for even one person here at WITS.

Note on Factor V Leiden: This is the blood clotting disorder I have (pronounced "Factor Five"). According to my doctors, Factor V is approximately 15% prevalent in people of Norwegian descent, 5-8% in Caucasians, 3-5% in people of Latin origin, less than 3% in African-Americans and almost non-existent in people of Asian descent.

Extra reading: Here is a story about a college-age girl who got a blood clot because she was born with her shoulder bone and rib too close together.

Do you have questions? Are there other behavior changes you know for clot prevention that you’d like to share? What are your tricks for lowering inflammation in the body?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 20+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or here at Writers In The Storm.

31 responses to “5 Easy Habits that Saved My Life (Literally)”

  1. Terry Odell says:

    Thanks for this, Jenny. One of my characters' sisters had Factor Five, so I did a bunch of research. I'm going on a transatlantic flight this summer, and (okay, also because it's a major celebration) booked a 1st class flight with those "bed seats", but even on short hops, I wear compression sleeves at least. I have this impossible-to-find-socks-that-fit foot,, and the toe seams are killer.

    Now, if the 'get up and walk around' rule only didn't lead through the kitchen!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are going to have so much fun in your first class seats, Terry! I hope your trip is amazing. And do invest in some compression stockings, even though you can put your feet up. Plane flights are notorious causes of DVT.

  2. Interesting tips, Jenny. Why lime instead of lemon?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I'm missing the words "in my water" there, so good catch! But lime makes your body more alkaline in a way that lemon does not. If I am doing a bunch of risky inflammation things (read: sugar, processed food) I try to balance things out with extra lime.

  3. K.B. Owen says:

    Fab post, Jenny! You've always been a one-percenter to me! I'm not so much a red wine fan, though I do enjoy white wine...any benefits there? Also, you and I need to catch up sometime! It's been way too long. Hugs! xoxo

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Aaaaaaw! You are the best, Kathy. And yes, I miss you to pieces. 🙂

      On the wine front, white wine WILL thin your blood, which helps prevent clots. Most alcohol will, but red wine has a lot of other heart health benefits (see below). The up side? You can just eat red grapes to get most of those benefits, so enjoy your white wine!

      Here's what Dr. Axe says:

      Red wine is loaded with antioxidants, particularly flavonoids like quercetin and resveratrol. ... That's why the benefits of red wine are greater than white wine benefits. The darker the wine, the higher the antioxidant content, and research points to pinot noir as the red wine with the highest antioxidant levels.

  4. barbdelong says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Jenny! I did not know the extent of the health issues you went through. So sorry you had to experience it. It's human nature to ignore what we know is bad for us until a crisis rears its head. Great information here. I can't drink any alcohol, so the tip on red grapes is golden.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Excellent, Barb...enjoy those red grapes. 🙂 And now you know why you only see me in pants and long skirts at meetings. DVT prevention is a constant refrain for me.

      And p.s. I still have a door prize and Write for the Money winnings for you! Be sure to come in July so I can hand them over, okay?

  5. My husband's work computer tells him if he's been at the computer screen for too long without a break - writers need the same warning.

    This is wonderful information. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Thank you! 🙂 Sharing...

  7. dholcomb1 says:

    Wow! I can't imagine what you went through, but I praise you for sharing your experience to educate the rest of us. Motivating.

    denise

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      The four months in bed and the wicked pain in the legs and lungs at the beginning were the worst part. Plus it was terrifying. I ran a computer rollout from my bed (since I was told not to get out of it except for the bathroom) and I found that the focus of the work would take my mind off the rest. I still use work for distraction when stuff is bugging me. But I agree, my pain can be other writers' gain. 🙂

  8. Life-saving advice, Jenny !

  9. Julie Glover says:

    Amazing information, Jenny! Thank you.

    And what I discovered about crossing my legs... I do it because I'm short, and in most chairs, my feet just don't touch the ground. But if I cross my legs, it lowers one a little, lifts the other, and my hips become more comfortable in the seat. I'm not quite sure how to address this! In my own office, though, I keep a small stool under the desk and rest my feet there, so that my hips are better-balanced and my legs do not push against the chair. Any thoughts?

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What you're doing in your office is the best, Julie. But I hear you that you can't do it in the "out in the world" chairs. I have only three possible solutions:

      - Sitting on the edge of the chair will let your feet touch the ground and work your core.
      - I use my bag to rest my feet on (my purse and all the essentials are in the bag)
      - Compression socks!

  10. What a terrific post, Jenny! Right on all counts! Let me add my own True-Life Adventure to encourage writers -- and everyone -- to exercise regularly. In 2005 i started feeling really tired all the time, and cold a lot of the time. It dragged on and on. Went in to see my Dr. & found that I had a leaking cecum (it joins the large intestine to the small). Over a long period of time I had lost almost half of my blood. In the after-surgery conference the surgeon said if I'd lost that much blood all at once I would have died, even if I'd been in an ER at the time. I said, "Dr., I never felt that bad. I was still going to the gym and doing treadmill until a couple of days before the surgery." She said, "Ah! That's what saved your life."
    Thanks again, Jenny.
    PS So, do I still exercise? Gee, what do you think? Yes!

  11. Laura Drake says:

    We were not meant to sit like we do - we're supposed to be out hunting! Until evolution catches up, we HAVE to make ourselves move! Which is harder as we age (Keep breathing, you'll see).

    Just do it. (note to self).

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ha! Totally true. I love the way you include your writing on your bike rides with that tape recorder. So smart! I also think it is the advantage of Dragon: you can write and move at the same time!

  12. Ann G. says:

    I just forwarded this to my husband who has Parkinson's Disease. He spends many hours a day sitting at his computer, not getting up until he is hungry or has to go to the bathroom, and not drinking nearly enough water. I hope he reads it and acts.

    One of the reasons I'm finding it difficult to get down to my writing these days is I hate all the inactivity of sitting. Good to know walking in all its various forms is helping in other ways, too. I think, in fact, I'll go for a walk right now. Thanks, Jenny!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I hope he reads it too. It's difficult when you're focused to make yourself get up and move (at least for me) but it is so vital. I'm a huge fan of the treadmill desks - one of my goals is to make enough space for me and the treadmill desk I have languishing in the garage. 🙂

  13. What enormously helpful information -- you may have saved a few lives! Can't thank you enough and will pass it around to other authors. Glad you are healthy today, and are spreading the word on our sedentary lifestyles. Thank you!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Christine, I'm as sedentary as most other writers most of the time, but the idea of getting more blood clots makes me move and definitely makes me wear compression socks. Also, since obesity is one of the 4 main causes of blood clots, weight management is something I need to get more serious about now that menopause is rearing it's ugly head.

  14. Fae Rowen says:

    Since my first varicose vein popped up on my sixteenth birthday, I've always paid attention to my hereditary-burdened veins. Thanks for the great review, Jenny!

  15. Lise Mayne says:

    I just loved this post, and could relate so well. I was a principal, wrote a book and a Master's thesis, from my early forties to age fifty. Then everything went to hell. I got a blood clot in the hepatic vein to the liver. I am a "two percenter"! My health cascaded down from there. Fortunately, i survived, and like you Jenny, I kiss the ground every day. Others complain about aging, while I think I'm so lucky to have lived another twelve years and counting. This advice is excellent, and you added things I didn't know. I also shared with other people. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


2014-2019

Archives