Activity and Fitness After a Blood Clot

Exercise after a blood clot

People who are diagnosed with a blood clot will each have a different level of physical ability and fitness during and after their recovery. Some people who experience a blood clot will return quickly to normal mobility and fitness routines – even vigorous exercise – while others may struggle to participate in normal daily activities and to regain their strength. Getting moving again after a blood is hard work and can be overwhelming to think about for some people. For other people, exercising after a blood clot can seem next to impossible.

Prior to my DVT and PE in June 2012, I ran half marathons (13.1 miles) and a marathon (26.2 miles) and was in good physical shape. After my blood clots, my physical activity and fitness was non-existent. I could barely do anything without pain, fatigue, trouble breathing or feeling like I set my healing progression back weeks or even months. Every time I tried to run or walk even short distances, I felt worse. My mind was in constant turmoil over the fact that being active would help to prevent future blood clots, but I couldn’t walk to the mailbox without huffing and puffing and aching somewhere on my body. Over the next few years, I gave up on fitness and physical activity. Those days, in my mind, were long gone. I focused on healing my body and my mind in other ways – taking time to rest, relax, laugh, decompress and nurture my spirit. I needed a break, so I took one. At that time, I had no idea how long my break would be or if I would ever return to an active lifestyle. 

Now, four years later, I am back to a regular physical fitness routine (much to my surprise) and that has helped me even more in my recovery from DVT and PE blood clots (much to my even greater surprise). In this post, I am going to share some tips and ideas with you to help you lead an activity, healthy life and get moving again after a blood clot.

Find an activity that motivates you.

In my opinion, this is by far the most important thing you can do when it comes to engaging in physical activity. You have to find something that you love. I used to love running and was really motivated to train for racing. After my blood clot, I was not motivated to run – at all – yet I kept trying to run. I hated every single step. I had to find something different. What motivates me now is short bursts the of cardio like running, walking, rowing and jumping jacks (not long distances or five hour training sessions) combined with strength training exercises using my body like squats, planks or push-ups or weights like deadlifts or shoulder presses. I usually spend about 25 or 30 minutes at most exercising. I don’t have the attention or the commitment right now to do anything physical for an hour or two.

Other things that might motivate you to move more: hiking, walking in the park, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, yoga, the elliptical, just to name a few.

Make a plan and set small goals.

If I don’t have a plan for my workouts, I won’t do them. At this time in my life, I am committed to five or six days of physical activity either outside or in the gym and I stick to that. I print out my workouts ahead of time and have a plan for the week ready. If you can’t write your own plan – or don’t want to – there are a variety of exercise and fitness programs you can join that will give you a plan. Or, you can search online for a multitude of free resources and plans.

I joined the My Peak Challenge Prep Program (a very scaled-down version of Crossfit-like exercises and workouts, focused on outdoor sports, created by Outlander series star Sam Heughan) in February and I am really enjoying the program. If you are looking to join a constructive fitness program, it is my advice that you run it by your physician first and that you pick a program that is scaleable to all fitness levels, has a flexible schedule, has options to work out at home or without gym equipment and has adaptations for participants who are overcoming injury or illness. This is why I have found MPC so rewarding and accessible for myself. I can do it at home, at the gym, for ten minutes or 45 minutes and I can select the activities and exercises that work for me or receive guidance to adapt the ones that won’t.

Following a program or plan – whether it is yours or someone else’s – helps you to set small goals, which are more attainable than setting one big goal. Some of my goals have included – working out more days than not in a week, spending more time being active outside, running a mile, and being able to do just one push-up. Your goals may include running a race, a triathlon, lifting soup cans during three of five commercial breaks, signing up for a water aerobics class or taking the stairs at work two days a week. Fitness doesn’t have to be hard or complicated – use the tools right in front of you. Walk up and down your stairs at home a certain number of times a day, walk for ten minutes in your neighborhood or do leg-lifts every night after dinner. The hardest part is starting something new.

Record your progress. 

I have a regular pen and paper notebook that I write something in every day pertaining to my fitness journey. I either record what I have done that day – distance run or walked in a certain amount of time, sets or weights lifted and how I felt. On the days I don’t workout, I write that down too. What I don’t write down is how long it took me to do the entire workout or what went wrong with it. I also write down small goals (the perfect opportunity to record what you hope to do next time) or revelations I have about something not related to fitness. I give my workouts a star rating. One star is not so great and five stars is a great workout. I never give myself zero stars – even on the days I don’t workout because those are the days I have committed to letting my body rest and heal.

Be consistent.

Similar to following a plan, being consistent in your activity is important. I have a pretty consistent schedule I maintain and after just a few months, that schedule has become routine for me. I workout (lifting and cardio) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I do something less strenuous like a slow run, a walk in the park or a walk with my dogs. I do vary my days/exercises if I need to based on what else is going on in my life; but overall, my workouts stay consistent. Your schedule can be what you want it to be. You can take a walk two days a week or go to an exercise class one day a week and do stretching at home one day a week. 

Vary your activities and intensity.

As your activity schedule becomes routine, you will find it is helpful to refresh or revitalize your plans by varying what you are doing. For example, don’t always swim – take a walk outside one day. I don’t always work my legs and my core. I mix it up with my arms and my cardio. When I am just not feeling the treadmill, I do jumping jacks. When I don’t want to stay indoors, I go for a walk outside. When I don’t feel like I can lift, I add in another cardio or rest day. If I need to rest another day or feel worn down, I do.

Do what you can – and don’t worry about the rest.

It is true that experts suggest after suffering a blood clot, people should resume routine activities slowly and at a pace they are comfortable with. Physical activity is after a blood clot in your leg or lung is safe, but it’s really important to listen to your body and pace yourself accordingly. If you experience pain, swelling or trouble catching your breath as a result of physical activity, take a step back, evaluate your activity level and take some more time to heal. Remember, healing times are different for everyone. I took four years to heal before I could workout again – someone else might take four days, four weeks or four months. There is no schedule that you must stick to that is worth sacrificing your overall health and recovery. And there is no exercise worth harming yourself for. For example, there is one leg exercise that always brings pain to my leg where I had my DVT, but not the other leg. I have eliminated that exercise from my routine all together. 

Remember: Any activity is better than no activity.

Over time, as you regain your strength and mobility, you can benefit from physical activity or exercise that will help you maintain a healthy weight and offset symptoms associated with post-thrombotic syndrome or longterm complications from DVT. Remember, talk to your physician before starting something new – or, better yet – ask your physician what workout plan might be right for you and tackle that task together.

I have noticed that being active on a regular basis has greatly improved not only my physical health (a decrease leg pain and swelling and a decrease feeling over-exertion during normal activities like climbing the stairs), but my emotional health as well. I am not as sad as I once as and worry less, most of the time. I feel confident in my activities and workouts and most of all, I feel happy about what I am able to do. I rarely suffer physical symptoms in my leg since I began engaging in regular activity. I use my time at the gym or outside to burn off the stress I accumulate during the day and end each day feeling refreshed and energized instead of defeated and depressed.

Find support.

Just like nutrition, don’t do fitness alone. I use My Fitness Pal to keep track of my workouts and I like the community there, which is structured a lot like Facebook. My Fitness Pal allows you to keep track of your progress and share that progress with others. You can also join a multitude of fitness groups on Facebook and online. You can join a gym and meet people in exercise classes or even in the locker room. If you’re not comfortable joining a gym, I encourage you to find a community recreating center, that’s what I did. It’s a lot more welcoming and less intimidating that a traditional gym environment, but still offers the benefits of available equipment, personal instruction, a pool and a variety of classes and programs.

You can also meet up with friends to take a walk or hike. Having people to enjoy activities with holds you accountable to your plan as well as your goals and serves as motivation on the days when staying active is hard.

Tips for ecercise after a blood clot

Fitness and activity is just as individual as the recovery periods we each go through. Beginning, resuming or maintaining an active lifestyle – be it leg exercises at your desk or swimming laps – can help us lead a healthier, happier lifestyle and helps also to prevent blood clots.

Reader Writes In: How has a blood clot impacted your physical fitness? What are you favorite activities or fitness routines?

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,





More information to share:BCRN Awareness Matters


  1. Wendy Dirks says

    Thanks for posting this, Sara! I’ve just discovered something amazing about recovering from a PE that I wish someone had told me a year ago. I’m 17 months post my PE and the consultant gave me the very unhelpful advice that recovery should take six months. Now, after many doctor visits, I realise that what he meant is that the clots should dissolve after six months. But pulmonary fitness can take much longer than that. I’ve been so breathless and exhausted that I’ve been terrified that I had some other terrible lung disease – if not, why wasn’t I fine after six months?

    I also have asthma and was referred to pulmonary rehabilitation. I’ve done 5 of the 12 sessions so far and already see improvement. Most of the other people in my group have COPD. The sessions consist of targeted exercises and educational sessions afterward. Between a return visit to the hospital to discuss my breathlessness and these sessions, I’ve discovered something really reassuring!

    I am not recovered from the PE. Not even close. Yes, the clots probably dissolved after six months on anti-coagulant (I’m on rivaroxaban for life). But that doesn’t mean my lung function recovered. We breathe with our diaphragm and our intercostal muscles. After months of bed rest and reduced exercise afterward, my intercostal muscles are completely out of condition so of course I am easily breathless. The exercises I’m doing are strengthening those muscles. Furthermore, the reason that people with lung problems become so breathless when walking is that the quadriceps muscles which we use to walk are huge and require a lot of oxygen when in use. When they are out of condition, we have to breathe much harder to keep them supplied so we huff and puff and become breathless. So the exercises in rehab also focus on the quadriceps muscles. I’ve managed to up my distance in the six minute walking challenge this week – hurrah! Finally, finally after 17 months I feel like I am going to get better eventually. I don’t know if pulmonary rehab is offered in the USA, but if some of your readers have it available, it’s fantastic. They might also work with someone to learn exercise targeted at the intercostal muscles and quadriceps.

    I just wish someone had told me this a year ago. It would have saved me so much anxiety!!!

    • Wendy Dirks says

      PS I forgot to say that the respiratory medicine specialist told me that swimming is the best exercise you can possibly do for your lungs. I love to swim so that’s good news.

      • Wendy Dirks says

        PPS Three months before my PE, I tore my anterior quadriceps and couldn’t walk for 3 months! No wonder it’s taking me so long to get well!

  2. Thank you Sara –this has been really helpful!!!

  3. I had my first walk (15 Days diagnosted PE) yesterday, it was a Little faster walk for about 6 min, then I got a panicattack, I could not Breathe, I was very worried and had panic for about 1 hour at home in the sofa. My doctor thougt I coul ride my bike to/from work after 2 weeks, it is 100 km/week. I hav normally very gott condition and very suprised that I can no even walk right now. I was no aware of the panic, I have never have panic attacks Before in my Life. It seems that here in Sweden there is not any knowledge about rehab after PE. It feels like the doctors dont take this serious, I was suppose to back to work on Monday, my doctor said I would be fine like 2 weeks after LE. It feels like this is a very long rehab for me.

  4. Its 3 and 1/2 years since my p.e’s and im almost back to my level of workouts that i was at before. However i still have a longer recovery afterwards. At first it took all my strength to get to the gym and do a 5min workout. It exhausted me! I can now do 45 min cardio and weights. Its been a long slow road to recovery but im still working at it.

  5. We have today just bought two folding bikes, so that we can drive to a traffic free trail and just cycle as far as I want and then back. I didn t want an electric assisted one as I would just sit there and not exercise -also if the motor went (and it would just be my luck for that to happen) I would be pedalling a heavy bike back.Previously we did a lot of cycling -but due to my husband having a quadruple heart bypass and me having my second P E. We had neither of us cycled for 4 1/2 years til two days ago – We were on the Isle of Wight England & there is an old train track turned into a tarmaced cycle trail (so beautiful) I was so determined and shaking -I was so nervous- It was a hot day but I was dressed up to cover legs and arms should I fall off and bleed – in the back of beyond (my Quick clot hadn t arrived in time) We set off from the bike hire place – me walking the ordinary roads til we got to the trail – I cycled about 2 miles to a track side tea shop – I went round telling everyone there how pleased I was with myself and how true it is that you never forget how to ride a bike and strangely despite being saddle sore I did 16 miles and just felt I could go on and on- but when at home struggle to get up out of the chair – as though my brain doesn’t t pass the message on. Is it me or have other P E recoverers felt this? Thought I would like to pass this on as others would appreciate the madness of it all.

  6. Thank you Sara. This is a most helpful article. I had a dvt and pe 2 years ago. I need to lose weight and needed some omph to get me going again.

  7. Thank you for this article. Where I come from, the doctors are very shy with words when it comes to DVT. I am fighting for three years, and I have a feeling that i’m floating alone in space trying to figure out what can and what can’t i do.
    My doctors have some tips about food and nutrition, bat it’s nothing special. Sometimes I think they don’t even know.I tried paleo, I tried eating clean..but none of that worked for me. However, I found a combination. But the biggest concerns are my exercises. here doctors say you can ride bikes, walk and swim … but I would love to trie some cardio at the gym, or a little more demanding Pilates … and I’m not sure if I should. Three years have passed and I still have 10 kg too much and I feel sluggish and weak all the time.Therefore this article helped, to see that I can return to normal life as much as possible.

  8. Your an inspiration thank you

  9. Thanks for motivating people and atleast giving a hope that things can get better.I suffered from an extensive dvt before 2 yrs. due to the massive clots that I had in my left leg I had no hopes of full recovery especially after my doctor told me before 5 months that I will be left with some scarred tissue in my leg .but my recent scans shows my leg is all post thrombotic syndrome has significantly reduced and I do hope it improves with time .i still wear compression stocking though.but I can surely say that my previous dvt doesn’t stop me from doing fact I m serious about my exercise now.
    So don’t give up. Believe that things will be better with time and keep working towards it .what we think really has a huge impact on our body… tell yourself “everything is going to be ok you just need some time”be positive and happy:)

  10. I will share what I am doing, because I refuse to go to a doctor and get blood thinners.
    Supplements I take:
    Nattokinase: In the morning when I wake up. It is Fibrinolytic (Helps disolve the fibrin that holds clots together)
    Serrapeptase: In the Morning. It dissolves dead tissues in the body. I take it in hope that it reduces arterial scarring so that maybe it will make another clot less likely.
    Fish Oil: I take Omega 3 fish oil capsules before every meal. It has anti-platelet and fibrinolytic properties. I also eat a pescatarian to increase the Omega 3 in my body.
    Vitamin E (The d form and not dl) Vitamin E has an anti-platelet/ anti-coagulant effect on the blood
    Then I exercise doing two 30 minutes sessions on my work days and three 30 minute sessions on my days off.
    I don’t have a lot of equipment and so I walk (pace) back and forth in my apartment. I will pace, do some pushups to get the heart rate up, pace to bring the heart beat down. I do random exercise while pacing. Squats, lunges, karate kicks, push-ups, crunches, plank, etc. Walk, walk, walk, pace pace, pace – and circulate that blood. All the supplements in the world will not help if you do not get off your ass and circulate that blood.
    I am no doctor. If you have DVT go see a doctor. I say this to protect my own ass. I personally don’t like or trust doctors.
    Other foods/supplements that might help you – Coumarin containing foods (ex, cinnamon, green tea, parsley, dandelion, celery seed, etc), Vitamin D (and sunlight as well), Garlic (anti-platelet, and supplements are cheap and save you from bad breath), Chocolate (anti-platelet), and Evening primrose oil (anti-platelet/anti-coagulant)
    For those who try this – Let me know if it has helped, but I say that the best supplements out of what I have listed are – Nattokinase, Vitamin E, and lots of Omega 3 (search youtube for how much Omega 3 you need) As I stated I take supplements and eat fish everyday because of my pescatarian diet. I hope my words have brought some hope to people.

  11. Stumbled upon this. 2 years since my bilateral PEs and I’m still short of breath. Just nice to see I’m not crazy. I was so active before (ironman athlete.) And I’m simply not the same. I joke that the PEs took 2 minutes off my mile time (running.) I’ve got some of it back, but I’m simply not the same. And the strange tight-chest, short of breath, weird feeling doesn’t happen as often as it used, to, but it still does. Thanks for this article! At least I know I’m not the only one.

  12. Reading these posts have given me hope & made me realize it’s gonna take time to feel like myself again. I had my PE about 5 weeks ago & have been worried I still experience some lung pain & feel fatigued. I work construction & just walking has me out of breath. I’m currently working about 3-4 hours a day now but it’s a struggle!! Thanks to everyone for sharing your stories, I’m thinking maybe I have been pushing myself too hard too soon now & should take time off work, start walking & exercising for a month or so & then go back to work…Any thoughts or responses would be appreciated!!!

  13. Thanks Sarah. This was useful. It’s been a year since my DVT and PE caused by May Thurner syndrom. I was given the all clear to start exercising in April and spent the last three months just upping my day to day activities like cleaning my house and walking in a mall to build my strength. Like you, any activity left me breathless and sweating like I had just completed a marathon. I couldn’t last half a day of being out and about without getting dead tired and having to sleep for 2-3 hours. Everyone forced me to exercise soon after my operation because of my existing PCOS, insulin resistance and rapid weight gain once I stopped taking birth control. I did try to start walking but my body retaliated with my leg swelling and I had to stop. And still people would harass me to exercise. Then I realized that this was my journey. Not theirs. And I will go at my own pace. Just this week, I started going to the gym. I’ve started with swimming, walking, cycling and yoga. Just half an hour a day. What surprised me is that I thought I had built up enough strength to do all these activities reasonably well. But I can’t swim a whole pool length without getting breathless and having to stop halfway. I also have to rest every five to ten minutes with aerobic exercise and I also can’t do much of the yoga. But rather than seeing this as a failure, I am being kind to myself. I’m really proud of myself for taking the next giant leap to my recovery. As a former athlete who exercised six times a week this has been both a mental and physical challenge for me and continues to be. Reading your post gives me hope.

  14. Jane Haslam says

    Dear Sara. I have come across this and other of your writings whilst googling, as I am in the very early stages of recovering from a very extensive proximal DVT and small PEs. It is giving me hope that recovery can be possible. Just one step at a time. Thankyou.

  15. Christina Carrozza says

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m 33 and was just diagnosed with a blood clot in my lung and one in my leg. My leg feels better, but my breathing is still rough.
    I was doing cross fit and want to get back at it. I’m only 1 week post diagnosis.
    Do you think that’s to soon to go back? I have all intentions of taking it light, but both myself and family are nervous about my return.
    We don’t know what’s causing the blood clots yet. I start testing for that next week. My doctor said light return. But walking doesn’t really interest me.
    Thank you for any advice.


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