Taking care of your body through exercise and giving back to the community by donating blood are two ways to promote personal health and wellness. Combining the two tasks, however, leaves many people wondering what the safety guidelines are for exercising in relation to giving blood. To enjoy your blood donating experience with the least amount of side effects, avoid strenuous physical activity both before and after giving blood for up to 24 hours.
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Athletes vs Nonathletes
A one pint donation of blood reduces blood volume levels by about 10 percent. Blood cells regenerate, returning blood levels back to normal after about 48 hours. However, the level of blood hemoglobin, your body's oxygen transport mechanism, typically does not recover for up to three to four weeks after donating, so competitive athletes may observe a slight decrease in physical performance during that time period. For noncompetitive athletes and casual exercisers, the American Red Cross advises avoiding strenuous physical activity and heavy weight lifting for about five hours after donation. Central Blood Bank suggests that light exercise is safe, but strenuous exercise and heavy weight lifting should be avoided for at least 24 hours. Based on these suggestions, light exercise may be safe after donating, but you should cautiously ease back into your regular exercise routine to reduce your risk of injury or incident.
A 1995 study published in the “American Heart Journal” evaluated 10 male cyclists before and after blood donations to test the effect of blood donation on performance. Each cyclist was measured for oxygen consumption during maximal exercise testing at baseline, two hours before donating, two hours after donating and seven days after donating. Results showed that the maximal performance of the cyclists decreased for at least one week. Submaximal performance, however, was not affected by blood donations, according to the study. The study concluded that while competitive cyclists should not compete for seven to 10 days after donating, casual cyclists exercising at submaximal intensity may not have negative experiences aside from a higher than normal heart rate the day after exercise.
To improve your blood-donating experience, consume foods high in iron before and after giving blood to help restore your blood iron levels. Iron from poultry, red meat and fish is most efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream. Drink at least 16 oz. of water and fluids, not alcohol, the day prior to donating and continue to drink plenty of fluids for 24 to 48 hours following your donation visit. If you exercise before donating, drink fluids to replace body fluids lost during exercise in addition to the suggested pre-donation amount. Noting the color of your urine is a good indication of your hydration levels.
Listen to your body. Every individual's post-blood donation experience varies. Some people may experience little to no side effects after donating blood and feel that they can immediately resume their normal exercise regimen. However, some people may feel the effects of donating blood for up to a few days after donating. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded or lethargic after donating, avoid exercising, drink plenty of fluids and consume high-protein foods and complex carbohydrates. If you continue to experience these symptoms several days after donating, contact your physician or donation center.