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Anemia & Exercise

By Dan Harriman ; Updated August 14, 2017

Anemia comes in various forms, with some types posing greater health problems than others. One of the primary symptoms of anemia is fatigue, which can make exercising a difficult prospect. Regular exercise, however, 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.


Anemia is a potentially serious health condition that reduces the amount of healthy red blood cells your body makes. The cells contain hemoglobin, which enables them to carry oxygen through your body and deliver it to tissue. Hemoglobin is a protein made from iron and is produced in bone marrow. An iron deficiency reduces the amount of oxygen that can be transported by the red blood cells and can result in anemia. In addition to iron deficiency anemia, the other types include anemia of chronic disease, such as cancer or HIV/AIDS; sickle cell anemia; and vitamin deficiency anemia.


Fatigue is perhaps the most common and noticeable symptom of anemia, namely because of the lack of oxygen your muscles are receiving. Pale skin, chest pain, dizziness, a shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, cold hands and feet, headaches and cognitive problems are other typical symptoms of anemia. The severity of anemia can vary greatly and make symptoms almost unnoticeable during mild stages of the condition. Anemia can be temporary or longterm. As anemia worsens, however, symptoms become apparent. Exercising with anemia can be difficult, considering that fatigue is a primary symptom.


Regular exercise is important for overall health and should be a part of your daily routine, no matter what type of anemia you live with. Consult your doctor to determine the appropriate intensity of exercise and type of physical activity you can engage in. Develop a program based on your overall fitness level and ability to perform physical activities. It is very likely that your doctor will not recommend strenuous activities that could tire you easily. Your body's demands for oxygen during intense exercise could cause you to become dizzy or lose consciousness.

Women and 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. According to, 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.

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