Exercising While Anemic

side profile of a young woman resting on the handlebars of an exercise bike
Anemia can cause exercise exhaustion. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Anemia is a condition where the production and the number of red blood cells is below normal levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can range from mild to severe., Anemia, which can make you feel exhausted, can effect your ability to exercise and leave you unable to complete workouts.

Causes of Anemia

Anemia can be caused by a wide variety of things, most of which are underlying nutrient deficiencies or diseases. Common causes include iron deficiency, vitamin deficiency, chronic diseases like cancer or HIV, bone marrow diseases and sickle cell conditions. Dr. Carol Otis says that iron-deficiency anemia, or tired blood, is the most common form of the disease.

Symptoms of Anemia

Exercise is a good way to notice the symptoms and feelings that anemia can give you. Anemic people may get very tired after doing light to moderate exercise or other activities that you would not expect to wear you out. You may feel weak, dizzy, irritable, depressed and be unable to catch your breath. Outward signs could also include pale skin, cold hands and feet, headaches and irregular heartbeats.

Exercise Demands on the Anemic

Intense exercise can be even more of an issue for the most common form of anemia that is caused by an iron deficiency. Heavy exercise can increase iron demands by 1 to 2 milligrams per day. This can magnify the condition. Iron loss through sweat, blood loss, or the breakdown of red blood cells from foot striking in exercise may increase the need for iron.

Diagnosing and Treating Anemia

Anemia is diagnosed via blood tests to check the levels of red blood cells. A CBC, or complete blood count, is the primary test used to examine the size and shape of your red blood cells. This can be used to narrow down the cause of the anemia. Anemia treatment options in the case of serious diseases are limited to fighting the symptoms of those diseases. Treating anemia caused by deficiencies is possible through supplementation with iron or vitamin B-12 and by making changes to the diet.

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