The delightful way to avoid pulmonary embolism

August 23, 2011
Volume 08    |   Issue 35

Every afternoon at 3:00 pm a group of residents in the community where I live take a walk around the park. Actually, it’s more of a stroll than a walk. There’s nothing vigorous about it, and you might think this mild exercise isn’t doing them much good. The pace looks like it’s too slow to have much of an effect on their hearts or weight. Still, they walk every day as if it improved their health.

Well, it does. Sometimes we forget that all forms of movement contribute to our well being. And that inactivity has real and preventable consequences.

It turns out that researchers recently found that being a couch potato can increase the risk for blood clots in the lungs. Regular movement — even a slow to moderate walk — helps prevent them.

This recent study followed nearly 70,000 nurses over 18 years. It found that women who sat more that 41 hours a week outside of work have a double or triple risk for developing pulmonary embolism — a common cause of heart disease. This is the equivalent of sitting for just six hours a day.

An embolism occurs when some or all of a blood clot forms in the legs and travels into the lungs. Walking and other forms of movement provide enough movement to prevent a clot from forming. In the past, we’ve associated embolisms with long plane trips. But they occur whenever there’s a lack of physical activity, including in your home. In fact, a 20-year-old man recently died of an embolism after playing video games non-stop for 12 hours.

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So break up your periods of inactivity with a little gardening or vacuuming. Do some stretching exercises in between them. Or take a walk with a neighbor or two. You’re more than welcome to join our little group. Just show up any afternoon at 3:00.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


“Physical inactivity and idiopathic pulmonary embolism in women: prospective study,” Christopher Kabrhel, Raphaëlle Varraso, Samuel Z Goldhaber, Eric Rimm, Carlos A Camargo Jr, BMJ, 2011; 343:d3867 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d3867.

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