When I wake up in the morning I already feel like I’ve run a marathon. My body (and brain) is tired, I have difficulty concentrating and keeping my train of thought, and sometimes when I try to sit upright, it feels like there’s someone sitting on my chest. My appetite is nonexistent, my nails are brittle, I’m always cold and I have ridiculously pale skin, even for a ginger. When I finish my drink, I compulsively chew on the ice and I have strange cravings.
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, you might have anaemia — I know I do.
Anaemia comes in lots of different shapes and forms, with a whole list of symptoms attached to it. Basically, anaemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce haemoglobin, a protein which helps your blood carry oxygen throughout your body. Most types of anaemia can be treated and controlled with iron supplements, and B12 in some cases, but some kinds of anaemia, like the kind that I have, are chronic and your body still struggles to absorb the iron even with supplements.
The main thing about exercising with anaemia is getting to know your body. When I first started exercising regularly, I pushed myself too hard and became lightheaded, had trouble catching my breath and I eventually saw red and black spots for a few minutes. At first, I figured that I was just even more unfit than I initially thought, but after some research, I found out that this was due to my anaemia and iron deficiency. Ever since then, I’ve slowed down my workouts, picked up yoga and started exercising for shorter periods of time, but at more regular intervals (think four or five workouts of 15 – 20 minutes, instead of two or three 45 minute workouts) and I try to push myself without going overboard and causing myself harm.
Endurance athletes and runners can also develop anaemia due to excessive sweating and increased iron requirements, which can become dangerous over time. In order to combat this, you should increase your iron intake, either through diet or supplements, if you exercise regularly. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before taking supplements, though!
If you are anaemic (which can be tested by a simple finger prick test at your local clinic, pharmacy or doctor), you should take the following precautions when exercising. First of all, always monitor your heart rate, either through a smartwatch or fitness device or by keeping an eye out for irregularities such as rapid increases in your heart rate. Shortness of breath is another common symptom of anaemia, so doctors recommend that you start off a new exercise routine with 10 – 15 minute sessions, while gradually building up the length and intensity over time. Taking regular rest breaks to restore energy and prevent lightheadedness will also reduce the toll of exercise on your body.
In short, don’t exercise for too long without taking breaks, keep an eye on your breathing and heart rate, avoid intense exercise regimes like HIIT and listen to your body.
I’ll be dealing with anaemia for the rest of my life, so I try to educate myself and continually look at ways to stay healthy. Do you have anaemia? Do you have any questions or advice for me? Please let me know in the comments!