Intentional Effort to Prevent DVT and PE
Even though I’m a relatively healthy 36-year old...I mean young man, I almost died at the end of January this year due to a clot deep in my right calf (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) that broke up and went through my heart and peppered both of my lungs (pulmonary embolism, or PE). You can read my description of my experience and what I believe caused it here. I ended up spending almost 3 full days in the hospital and have been on blood thinners ever since then. I hope to get off blood thinners soon, but, usually, people who experience a DTV and PE have to be on thinners for at least 6 months.
There are some things that I’ve been doing differently to prevent being hospitalized again or dying from another DVT and PE.
Drink a lot of water
My goal is to drink a gallon per day. I used to drink a lot of water when I was in high school. I’d regularly drink a little over a gallon of water per day. I continued that through college, but, when I started flight school and started flying, I began to reduce the amount of water that I’d drink. My flights would generally last for 2 hours, and, while there was a relief tube in the cockpit, I didn’t want to be distracted by needing to “go.” I decided to reduce my fluid intake leading up to my flights. I also didn’t want to have to get up in the night to “go” because I needed as much rest as possible since I was often getting up around 4am before my flights. So I reduced my fluid intake leading up to going to bed too.
I’ve been a flight instructor for 6 total years, and, as a flight instructor, I would regularly fly with students that had very little flight experience in complex, high-powered aircraft in very busy airspace. I love the challenge of flying and teaching a young aviator the finer points of flying and, more importantly, thinking like a pilot. I really had to be on my toes, though. I had many close-calls that were averted only by God’s grace and quick action on my part. Since the flights were so busy, I didn’t have a lot of time to use a relief tube or piddle pack in the aircraft, so I would limit my fluid intake before my flights as a flight instructor too.
Obviously, limiting your fluid intake is a tight line to walk. It is actually possible to drink too much (you can read about that here on WebMD), but most people won’t get close to drinking too much fluids. Most people (including me) don’t drink enough water during the day. According to WebMD, you should drink between .5oz and 1oz of water for every pound of body weight. The amount of water that you drink also depends on your daily activity among other things. I currently weigh about 216 lbs.
So, according to WebMD, I should be drinking between 108oz and 216oz per day! 216oz is over a gallon and a half of water! That’s a lot of water!
After reading about other people who have experienced DTVs and PEs, one thing that seems pretty clear is that intense activity followed by extended periods of inactivity can be very dangerous for our bodies. In fact, one of the segments of population that is at the highest risk for DVT and PE is marathon runners and participants in Ironman competitions. You’d think that people in great enough shape to run marathons and/or Ironman competitions would be invincible! Something about having intense activity followed by inactivity makes our bodies more likely to produce blood clots.
I still exercise regularly at the beginning of my day, but I ensure that I cool down sufficiently after my exercise. I also make an effort throughout my day to change my position and get up from my desk every hour — more on that later. I’ve also started to bike regularly. Biking is great because it gets me out in the fresh air, provides low-impact exercise, and makes me happy.
Avoid sitting for long periods of time
Computers, smart phones, phones, and comfy chairs are great tools, but they make it way too easy to spend a lot of my time sitting. I've read in several locations online that “sitting is the new smoking.” That's a heavy statement isn't it? Actually, Forbes published an article in 2015 entitled, “Is Sitting The New Smoking?” You can read that article here. In that article, they cite a study that shows that inactivity now kills more people in the United States than smoking! Wow!
For most people in America that sit a lot, they sit the most while working at their desk at work or at home. There is a better way to work at a desk than to sit at it. Many companies have been offering standing desks. The one that seems to be the best value (standing desks can get pretty expensive) is StandDesk. I haven't bought one yet (keeping our family going with 7 children can be expensive, but it's way worth it), but, once we have the money, we plan on getting a desk from them. If you use this link: http://go.standdesk.co/fjhls , you'll get $30 off!
I would love to have a standing desk at work, where I do most of my sitting. Maybe that'll happen someday. Until then, I've been getting up from my desk for at least 10 minutes each hour to walk around to check on my staff, get some water, and do some pullups and pushups.
Not only has movement improved my overall health, but I think that it has also improved my productivity and alertness. Breaking up my day this way has made it easier for me to set time limits for my projects throughout the day. Instead of feeling like I have all day to get various things done, I now only have 40-50 minute clumps of very-focused time to complete things.
I have found that it takes a few minutes to get focused again after my breaks (the excuse I had used to stay at my desk for long periods of time just prior to my DVT and PE). In my previous jobs, I couldn't stay at my desk for extended periods of time due to various meetings throughout the day or being on the flight schedule. Plus, at those other jobs, I didn't have any significant high-visibility/high-complexity projects that I was solely responsible for. At this job, since I'm the boss, the buck stops with me. Plus, this past year+ that I've been the boss has been an extremely busy, unusual year. I sort of expected that, because that's normal for me. I'm thankful for that, though, because it gives me room to grow and learn.
Since it takes time to get focused again each time I return to my desk, I'm very deliberate about either finishing a task before I take my “activity break,” or I ensure that I set myself up for success before my break so that I can pick up quickly from where I left off. My “activity breaks” leave me more alert and energized to attack my to-do list with vigor! :)
Stress kills, and a lot of things that I stress about aren't worth dying for. God even tells us to be “anxious for nothing.” In my limited amount of research, I've found that stress does a ton of bad things to your body. If you're under stress for long periods of time, it can cause:
- increased blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- slower recovery from illness and injury
- increased susceptibility to viruses and colds
- muscular tension
- body aches
- compromised reproductive function
- nausea, vomiting, and stomachache
- increased risk of stroke or heart attack
- sadness or depression
Some of the ways that I've found to decrease my stress levels are:
- regular exercise
- at a minimum, I try to get the equivalent of 10,000 steps per day. I don't always reach that goal, but I try not to...stress out about it! :) I also do things that are enjoyable and that I'll look forward to. If I start to get burnt out on something, then I look for other activities.
- My workplace is located in a park, and I've been enjoying walking early in the morning and try to get about 7,000 steps in before I sit down at my desk and start work. I've been using a Pebble Time watch and my smartphone to track my steps as well as my sleep. It's not perfect, but it helps my awareness of my activity and sleep — two very important things.
- good sleep — I've been working very hard at getting to bed at a reasonable time (before 11) and getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
- breathing — I take a break from time to time and focus on my breathing. When I'm busy, I find myself taking shallow breaths instead of fully inhaling and exhaling. I'm not sure why I do that.
- acknowledging my humanity — I can't carry the burdens of the world. I'm only one man, and I'm human. I'm very limited in my influence and can only do so much to help others and control the outcome of circumstances. The organization that I work for could replace me easily with someone else. While I'm very loved by my friends and family, I'm ultimately not that important. So, I shouldn't take myself too seriously.
- God is in control — The Lord is creator of the universe and is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens without his being aware of it. He never promised ease and pleasure in this life, but He's blessed me with so much that I can only begin to name His blessings. While my body will fail me some day, God will never fail me and will preserve my soul for eternity because I have put my faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and have repented of my sins. My expectation is eternal and can never be taken away. This is the greatest comfort to me and puts everything in a heavenly, eternal perspective.
Moderation in all things: Work hard. Play hard.
I believe that it is most people’s tendency to be driven to extremes. Moderation is such a difficult quality to develop. I love to work and throw myself into my work. My goal is to do my very best. That may not mean that I'm the best at everything, but I'll do my best and take the results that come. In many western countries, the US included, many people value hard work. But working long hours, often equated to being a good, hard worker, doesn't necessarily mean that quality work is being performed! Long hours may just mean that you don't manage your time well.
I also tend to think often that, if a little is good, a lot is better -- that's not always true (and is often false and even a bad way to think).
I found that I started to apply the “work hard; play hard” and “if a little is good, a lot is better” mottoes to my work and to my exercise. For example, I would often have a short but intense workout before starting my workday, then I'd “work hard” mostly at my desk with little movement during the day -- sometimes working so hard that I'd forget to eat my lunch or drink water. At the end of my day, I'd “play hard” with another intense workout before going home.
I believe that these extremes of intense workouts followed by long periods of inactivity were harmful and ultimately were one of the contributing factors to my DVT and PE. I have been much more moderate in both my exercise and work -- not being lazy by any means, but dialing down the intensity of my workouts just a little, giving my body time to cool down, and getting up from my desk at least once every hour, taking time to breath, and taking time to enjoy lunch has greatly reduced my stress during the day.
“Work hard. Play hard.” -- that may be ok when you're young and your body is more resilient, but I think that it's a dangerous motto to live by if you apply it to your life every day like I did.
I'm not a health professional
I've spoken to my doctors about my DVT and PE multiple times. If you're concerned about your health, you really should speak to a qualified health professional. In general, if I continue to do the things I mentioned above to prevent DVTs and PEs, then it'll be good for my general health. Please also be aware that these are the things that I've been doing differently than before. I've continued to eat well, have continued to nurture my relationships with family and friends, and have continued to strive to live as God would have me to live in fellowship with Him. The things that I've changed, though, could be summed up with — take care of yourself! That's simple enough I guess.
What did I miss? What other things should I (or you) be doing differently to improve my (or your) health and well being? I'd love to hear your ideas!