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

The Great Blood Thinner Activity Debate (“I can’t do that, can I?”)

The Great Blood Thinner Activity Debate

For those of us on injections, warfarin or other blood thinning medications, whether or not to engage in physical activity, at what time and for how long remains a constant source of personal and, as I have noticed, even medical debate. What forums, articles and websites exist are full of questions about can I do this or that, when can I do it  and for how long can I do it, and they accumulate into what I like to call The Great Blood Thinner Activity Debate (“I can’t do that, can I?”)

I remember quite vividly sitting in my doctor’s office one week after I was discharged from the hospital for my first follow-up appointment when I asked him, “Can I run again?” He assured me I could and would in fact if I so desired. “Can I run again now?” I questioned. He actually said I could run anytime I wanted, but my body would most definitely let me know when I was ready and when enough was enough. I set out that weekend to walk to the mailbox and back (thinking I would leave my oxygen tank inside for about 10 minutes) and I made it about six steps before my body said, “Enough is enough.” I retreated to the air conditioned living room, oxygen and a seat on the couch. I hated being inside, but I wasn’t ready to be outside in the dog days of summer, let alone on my feet for more than a minute or two. Emotionally, it was a setback I wasn’t at that time prepared to deal with; physically it was exactly what my body needed.

As the weeks and months went by, my doctor and I made several attempts to transition from injection thinners to warfarin, but the attempts failed and I remained on injections for about nine months since my diagnosis. It was only recently that I made the transition to warfarin and was able maintain healthy INR levels. It has taken me even longer – about 12 months – to get back to running with any degree of regularity and there are still days when I wonder, “What the heck am I doing?”

Once you are required to take blood thinners, especially if it is a lifelong prescription, you start to view life and the activities of it differently. A side effect of warfarin, combined with increased INR levels, is the potential for internal bleeding that can be dangerous, and even life threatening. The fact is, blood thinners do save lives because they treat or prevent serious blood clots; but they also pose one potentially serious side effect, which is bleeding because they slow the clotting of blood.

I don’t believe you have to stop living your life the way you want to when taking blood thinners. I believe we can still participate in the same activities we did before – or even new and better ones – we just have to be cautious of the potential side effects. It doesn’t mean we have to stop living, after all, many of us feel like we were given a second – third or fourth – chance, why not spend it how we want? You can still run, bike, hike, ride roller coasters, swim, travel, ride horses and learn archery along with a myriad of other activities. While a certain level of caution is necessary, especially if we hit our heads or see unusual bruising, there is nothing on the prescription bottle that says, “People taking this blood thinner should not___________.” I personally was never given a restriction on any activity, just to listen to my body – I would know what I could do, when I could do it and for how long. So far, that has been true.

Most of the time, bleeding caused by blood thinners is not serious or life threatening, although it is worrisome and inconvenient. Some examples of non-life-threatening bleeding are nosebleeds; a small cut while shaving with a razor; or minor cuts or skin tears. All of these types of bleeding may bleed longer than normal, but are not necessarily cause to panic and seek medical attention because they are superficial and can usually be controlled with added pressure apply to the wound for a longer amount of time. It takes me about 20 minutes to stop a nosebleed, which sometimes happen with the slightest wrinkle to my nose. Several products also exist to aid with clotting such as bandages, gels and powders like QuickClot, which aid in blood clotting, but do not disrupt the blood’s natural clotting abilities.

People taking blood thinners do not need to stop the activities they once enjoyed, especially after we are feeling well enough to participate in them again. They just need to take some extra precautions to maintain safety and peace of mind. For example, we do need to be cautious about things like high risk sports that may result in a head injury, but we do not need to stop them. We need to take extra precautions to increase our safety like wearing proper head gear when biking; gloves when gardening or working with tools and taking care with a few extra minutes when trimming hair and nails. Many people taking blood thinners also wear a medical alert bracelet to let others know they are on certain medications – like first responders in an accident – which can really add to peace of mind. You can find a myriad of medical alert bracelets on the internet and even find ones specific to sports and physical activity through RoadID. It could really save your life in an emergency or accident, especially if you are not able to speak for yourself.

No matter what activity we participate in, accidents do and will occur and sometimes these can produce superficial bleeding like from a cut or nosebleed and sometimes it could be serious, like if in a car accident or fall down the stairs. Just because we are taking blood thinners does not mean we need to stop or stop considering participating in activities that are viewed as dangerous. We can still participate in them, or even learn them for the first time, with a few extra safety precautions and common sense awareness. If you see unusual bruising or sustain a serious head or abdomen injury, you should contact medical professionals. There is no reason to stop living – even the life we’ve always imagined – when taking medications that undoubtedly save our lives. After all, it’s why we’re still here.

Share your story. Does taking blood thinners impact your decisions about normal day-to-day activity? What about extreme activities or sports? Have you given something up because you are worried about life-threatening bleeding? Did you start an activity you had always dreamed of participating in because of taking blood thinners?


There is hope for healing and you are not alone,