Can You Exercise With Anemia?



Anemia & Exercise

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Anemia, also sometimes known as low iron, comes in various forms and has various causes. The iron molecule helps your red blood cells carry life-giving oxygen around your body. Without iron-carrying red blood cells circulating through our blood stream, our bodies die from lack of oxygen. Anemia due to iron deficiency can happen quickly, such as from rapid blood loss, or can happen gradually from losses, such as those with a menstrual period, from a slow loss within the bladder, or gastrointestinal tract.

We can also become anemic if our bodies do not make enough red blood cells due to inadequate intake of dietary iron or vitamin B12 or due to chronic issues with a poorly functioning bone marrow, which is where red blood cells are made. Exercise can sometimes increase the body’s need for iron and B12 due to increase use by our muscles. Some types of anemia pose greater health problems than others, depending on why and how quickly anemia occurs.

Symptoms of Anemia

  • Feeling tired or lack of energy
  • Higher heart rate – especially with exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Poor endurance and stamina
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia/poor concentration

Exercising With Anemia


Women tend to be at a higher risk of developing anemia because of events such as heavy periods and pregnancy. Female athletes who engage in intense exercise on a regular basis are also at an increased risk of becoming anemic. However, aerobic exercises, such as swimming, running and biking, can help anemic women better deal with the condition.

The good news is that aerobic exercise allows for red blood cells to be delivered more efficiently to muscle tissue, but also causes an overall decrease in hemoglobin due to the dilution of red blood cells in plasma. The key to exercising with anemia is to find appropriate exercises that don’t drain you of all your energy but still provide aerobic and anaerobic benefits. Keep in mind, however, that if you are anemic, you should speak with your doctor about whether it is safe to exercise and if not when.

Exercise requires your body to use extra oxygen for the cells to work properly. If you are anemic when you exercise, you may develop lactic acidosis (when lactic acid builds ups in the bloodstream faster than it can be removed) and fatigue quickly, feel lethargic and feel a decrease in endurance. In addition, your recovery time may be longer and you will have more muscle stiffness that you would otherwise expect.

Foods To Improve Iron Levels


If you are diagnosed with anemia, there are some things you can do to quickly recover and be back in top shape for your workout. Foods such as spinach, eggs, soybeans, mussels, clams, oysters, beef and pork liver, and lentils are good foods sources of iron and sometimes B12. Adding a source of vitamin C, such as a citrus fruit, at the time of your iron-enriched meal, can enhance the absorption of iron into your system.

Working With Your Doctor To Balance Anemia and Exercise


There are some supplements available over the counter to increase your iron levels, but it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor what’s best for you. Blood tests may be needed to determine the type of anemia you have. Other testing may be needed to determine if you are losing blood from somewhere in your body, or just not making enough – another reason to see your doctor to be sure. You may need to expect some follow up blood tests to be done to determine if your treatment plan has been successful, then you can get back to exercising full steam ahead!

Regular exercise can play a vital role in dealing with anemia and encourages a long and healthy life. Speak with your doctor about what type of exercise program you should take up if you have anemia.
Happy New Year and here’s to the best of your health!

Elizabeth Salada, MD MPH
Internal Medicine and Wellness

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swati paul
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swati paul

I am suffering from anaemia ..all the times I feel week .. I feel depressed .. I used to take lots of pressure n panic ..and day by day i am getting healthy ..my hair and skin became dull ..please help me out from all this

Total Gym Direct
Admin

Please consult a health care professional on what medications and treatments you can use to re-gain your strength and health.

Michelle
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Michelle

Have you had your thyroid levels checked? Some of your symptoms sound more like thyroid problems.(hair, nails, etc)

Matt
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Matt

if you’re long term anemia – as i am – go get your doctor to find out what type of anemia you’ve got, and whats causing it. They may not be able to do that, but in most cases they can. If its “simple” iron deficiency, then is either malabsorbtion, or bleeding in your gut and they can treat both of those. Also look at the alternative supplements – ferrous fumarate can be the easiest to take, but if you have problems with tablets ask to get it infused. In addition i have found getting your vit B and D… Read more »

Tyler
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Tyler

I’m anemic. At first the doctor wasn’t sure but decided to take a blood test after I sat up from laying down and was extremely light headed (that and the fatigue depression weight loss and brain fog caused me to see him) it first showed up barley anemic not enough to cause the symptoms he said. He checked my vitamin b12 levels and they were also barley low. So he gave me a prescription for a supplement and told me to come back in a month. During that month I checked all ingredient labels of the foods I was suddenly… Read more »

Total Gym Direct
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Tyler, these issues are really out of our jurisdiction. You need to continue to see your doctor and focus on recovering. Your body seems to be weak. Give it time to rest.

Sue
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Sue

Im Anemic. 6 months ago i started a diet to lose weight. I had my period, a heavy one and in spite of that i continued my diet i was walking 4 to 5 km a day. My period hasn’t came since then. I almost fainted 3 days ago. I went to the doctor and she said that i should start eating normally again, but i don’t want to gain all the weight back and i really dont know if i should continue exercising ?? So what’s your advice

Total Gym Direct
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Voice those same concerns you just wrote here to your doctor. If you aren’t comfortable with talking to your doctor, then find a new one.

gabriela
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gabriela

I’ve only just been diagnosed with anemia but i think i had it for quite a while. My question is related to heart rate training zones. Which is better for this condition : short periods of aerobic (70% to 80%) exercise or longer periods in the recovery zone (60% to 70%)? or perhaps some combination of these two…? thanks in advance.

Kendall
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Kendall

I was just diagnosed with chronic anemia. I’m 28 year old women. Two months ago when an ER doctor looked at my blood draw she noticed severe low iron levels, a 7. She peaked and blood draws dating as far back as when I was twelve (the ER is linked with my local office I go to so she had access). Apparently, every draw showed the same low iron levels, but no one ever told me! I’m working with a new doctor and getting it sorted but now I’m wondering if things I’ve experienced all my life are because of… Read more »

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