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.
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.
#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.
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?
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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.