Women who are anemic or have a problem with heavy menstrual bleeding tend to be very tired; they often find that moderate to brisk exercise is difficult for them because they lack stamina and endurance. The fatigue problem tends to resolve as the anemia and bleeding are corrected nutritionally. In the meantime, women with these conditions may completely stop their regular exercise program in an attempt to avoid feeling tired.
However, complete avoidance of exercise is not healthy, for it reduces oxygenation and circulation to vital organs, such as the brain and heart, as well as all the cells of the body. Gentle exercise such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, range-of-motion exercises to keep the joints mobile, and slow relaxed walking promote good oxygenation and circulation and can even help to increase energy. The key is to exercise in a gentle, slow fashion.
I have included in this chapter several general fitness and flexibility exercises you can use to promote health and well-being. You may want to combine them with gentle aerobic exercise like walking. You can also combine them with the yoga stretches and acupressure points described in Chapters 10 and 11.
Exercise 1: Deep Breathing
Deep, slow abdominal breathing is very important for your health and vitality. It expands your lungs and allows you to bring adequate oxygen, the fuel for metabolic activity, to all the tissues of your body. Rapid, shallow breathing decreases your oxygen supply and keeps you devitalized. Deep breathing helps to relax the entire body and strengthens the muscles in the chest and abdomen. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding and anemia have reduced hemoglobin and red blood cell counts, so less oxygen is available than under normal conditions.
- Lie flat on your back with your knees pulled up. Keep your feet slightly apart. Try to breathe in and out through your nose.
- Inhale deeply. As you breath in, allow your stomach to relax so that the air flows into your abdomen. Your stomach should balloon out as you breathe in. Visualize your lungs filling up with air so that your chest swells out.
- Imagine that the air you breathe is filling your body with energy.
- Exhale deeply. As you breathe out, let your stomach and chest collapse. Imagine the air being pushed out, first from your abdomen and then from your lungs.
Exercise 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Women who are anemic may have muscles that are tense and tight because of inadequate oxygenation and blood flow. Lactic acid tends to accumulate in these muscles, and muscle tension can become a chronic problem. Movement effectively breaks up this pattern of chronically tight muscles. Unfortunately, women with anemia tend to become less active as their fatigue worsens. While strenuous exercise may be too difficult for a woman with anemia, it is still very important to keep the muscles loose and limber. Besides feeling more relaxed, supple muscles have a beneficial effect on mood and induce a sense of peace and calm. The following exercise will aid in releasing muscle tension.
- Lie in a comfortable position. Allow your arms to rest limply, palms down, on the surface next to you. Practice your deep abdominal breathing as you do this exercise.
- Clench your hands into fists and hold them tightly, for 15 seconds. As you do this, relax the rest of your body. Then let your hands relax.