The Jakarta Post
Regular exercise is necessary, but not sufficient for a healthy lifestyle; we need to remain active throughout the day. (Shutterstock/File)
According to research by professor of medicine Mary Cushman, MD of the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, what matters more than the exercise you do is how active you generally are. A sedentary lifestyle is likely to elevate the risk of developing blood clots in the legs, leading to dire consequences.
Dr. Cushman explained how blood clots develop, saying “The veins are bringing blood back to the heart after arteries have given oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. It’s particularly difficult for the veins in the legs to do their job, because they have to bring the blood up against gravity.” The leg muscles are responsible for pushing deoxygenated blood toward the heart for reoxygenation. If the leg muscles are immobile for extended periods of time, they cease to perform this function, leading to venous thromboembolism, or VTE. Through VTE may be a result of other risk factors, including surgery, traumatic injury and cancer, simply sitting down for many hours at a time may be a primary cause.
When a clot moves or a section breaks off, the results can be fatal: it can travel to the blood, leading to an ischemic stroke; or travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, both of which can be deadly.
Reader's Digest reported that between 300,000 and 600,000 people are affected by VTE every year. Despite the condition being the third leading vascular diagnosis after heart disease and strokes, worldwide awareness remains low.
In the study, Dr. Cushman’s team used data from the Artherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which monitored 150,000 people between ages 45 and 64 for 20 years. They analyzed the incidence of VTE and its relation to subjects’ TV-watching behavior.
TV habits were used as a means of judging whether or not volunteers were living sedentary lifestyles. The study revealed that people who watch TV “very often” had 1.7 times the risk of suffering a life-threatening blood clot compared to people who said they seldom or never watched television. To their surprise, researchers found that even frequent TV watchers who exercised regularly were still 1.8 times more likely to get a blood clot than exercisers who rarely watched television.
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Dr. Cushman explained that being physically active and having sedentary behavior aren’t mutually exclusive. “People who are physically active don’t necessarily have low sedentary time,” she said. In other words, regular exercise is necessary, but not sufficient for a healthy lifestyle; we need to remain active throughout the day.
Dr. Cushman recommends limiting the amount of time spent sitting—which includes prolonged periods such as working at a desk or taking a long flight—in addition to at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. She walks on a treadmill while watching TV and uses an hourly alert on her Apple watch to remind her to get up and move around regularly while she’s working. She also suggests that people should educate themselves about the disease, so that they can detect its incidence early enough for effective treatment.
Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) include pain or tenderness in your calf or thigh, swelling of the legs, redness, and skin that feels hot to the touch. A pulmonary embolism causes unexpected shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, elevated heart rate and lightheadedness. These symptoms indicate the blood supply to the lungs has been cut off. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking medical help urgently could make all the difference to your chances of survival.
Although VTE is commonly diagnosed in those above the age of 60, establishing healthy habits when you are younger will reduce your chances of developing a host of chronic diseases including heart disease and strokes later in life.
Dr. Cushman’s final piece of advice is clear, "Keep moving to have a healthy lifestyle. That involves not being sedentary, getting the recommended physical activity, and eating a healthy diet, which will help prevent this disease as well as almost every other chronic disease. These are the key things about preventing disease and maintaining a healthy long life.” (afr/kes)