Musculosceletal system

Swollen legs caused by sitting for a long time – the easy way to avoid heavy, tired legs while traveling

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Summer means vacation time. But many people start by just swapping their office chair for a seat in a car or on a plane. You can spend hours sitting in a plane, on a train or in a car to reach far-away destinations or visit friends. Many people find that sitting down for long periods in uncomfortable positions interferes with the circulation in their veins, leading to tired, heavy legs and swollen feet.

Causes of swollen legs in summer

The veins in our legs carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart. When we walk, the movement of our calf muscles helps the blood in our veins overcome gravity. But sitting down for a long time, especially with our legs crossed, interferes with circulation. This means that the deoxygenated blood in the veins flows more slowly, becomes thicker, and the blood platelets can stick together. Our veins become congested and our legs gradually become heavy and swollen. Anything that also slows down circulation and causes blood to flow less smoothly makes these symptoms worse. Not drinking enough water in the summer is an example. Air in planes or air-conditioned train compartments is often dryer than we think, and this means that we lose more water through the mucous membranes. The answer is as easy as it is effective: drink more. If you get thirsty while traveling during your vacation, you might fancy a beer or a spritzer, you are on vacation! But watch out. Drinking alcohol causes your body to excrete more water. So the outcome is counter-productive, and your circulation slows down even more. After a long trip, your legs can be so heavy and tired that they are visibly swollen.

These high-risk groups should take specific action to stimulate their circulation in order to avoid swollen legs in summer

Some people are more prone than others to developing swollen legs after sitting down for a long time. These include

  • Senior citizens
  • Smokers
  • People who are overweight
  • People who are stressed
  • Women taking hormone supplements

They all should pay more attention to a healthy circulation irrespective of age. As a general rule, an unhealthy lifestyle with an unbalanced diet and little exercise is a risk factor. If several risk factors coincide, which is not unusual, then the symptoms are also more common.

People of advanced age can suffer from vascular conditions caused by various factors later in life. Their veins already have difficulty carrying blood up the body under normal circumstances; the valves in the veins have become leaky, and varicose veins are becoming a problem.

Don’t stay sitting down for long periods: keep moving

Short bursts of movement are probably the best way to counteract heavy legs after being seated for a long time. So remember to stand up and walk up and down the aisle from time to time during a long plane or train trip. And if you are traveling by car or bus, don’t stay in your seat when the vehicle stops for a break. Get a breath of fresh air and stretch your legs. This gets your circulation moving again and also gets plenty of fresh oxygen into your lungs. You can also wiggle your feet while you are sitting down during the trip to work your calf muscles. You can do this by placing your heels on the ground and moving your feet up and down as if you were “braking” and “accelerating” while driving. You can also massage your calves with your hands or quickly and rhythmically contract and relax your leg muscles. If swollen feet and heavy legs are causing acute symptoms, raise your legs from time to time if you have room. These simple exercises will ensure that the calf muscles massage your veins and help your blood move upwards.

Short bursts of movement are probably the best way to counteract heavy legs after being seated for a long time.

Get plenty to drink so that your blood remains fluid even if you are sitting down for a long time

Always take something to drink when you are going on a long trip. The best things to drink to stay hydrated are unsweetened herbal tea and non-carbonated water. Though it’s tempting when you are going on holiday, avoid alcohol as much as possible to prevent further dehydration. Soft drinks are also not the best choice to maintain a healthy fluid balance. They rarely contain any vitamins or minerals, but are loaded with sugar and sometimes caffeine. These highly concentrated additives first have to be diluted in your body so that they match the concentration in your blood, and that again requires a lot of water. It’s also true that we lose a lot of water through our skin and in our breath on hot days or in air-conditioned train compartments in particular. So remember to drink, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Getting enough water keeps your blood fluid and mobile, which helps protect you against swollen legs.

Tomatoes for smooth platelets

It's no accident that tomato juice is a favorite drink above the clouds. The Fraunhofer Institute discovered some years ago that it actually tastes better at low air pressure than at ground level. This vegetable also contains substances that promote healthy blood flow and so can help prevent platelets “sticking together” too much. But we would have to drink huge quantities of tomato juice or consume highly concentrated tomato extract to get the benefit of this effect. Even so, a healthy, vitamin-rich diet is good for healthy circulation. So enjoy a salad or some fresh, crispy fruit and vegetables rather than snacking on bologna sandwiches and candy.

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