February 28, 2013

You Get The Picture: The struggles of health are weighty

By Magen McCrarey
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The stench of damp sweat hung in the air, pop music boomed and dumbbells were swinging high.  The gym is not for the faint of heart, something I had to discover the hard way as I almost made friends with the floor during a Powerhouse Gym “uppercut” class.

You see, I have this pre-existing condition I found out I had about seven years ago called anemia.  Anemia is iron deficiency within the body, where your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells.  The prevalence of anemia is 9 to 12 percent in non-hispanic white women, and twice as high for African American or Mexican American women, according to the American Family Physician.  

It’s the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, and I bet you had no idea. Well, neither did I.

After years of feeling randomly dizzy at times, and the fact that I was always ready for a nap faster than you could say “dinner’s ready,” I realized I had something wrong with me and needed to have my blood checked.  If you have anemia, you may understand the constant tired or weak feeling you get all of a sudden that may be accompanied by a nice, little headache.  

Often times, I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the dizziness and needing to lean my body forward as if I’m bowing to a sultan in order to bring circulation to my upper body.  This also may go hand-in-hand with some ear ringing and temporary hearing loss.

No one really gave me a clear direction on how to correct this deficiency except to take iron supplements.  Therefore, I seemed to lack the knowledge of what food and drink I’m not to consume and when I can and cannot engage in strenuous exercise.  

So, fast forward a few years later after the diagnosis, I decided to get serious about getting fit and gaining some visible muscle.  After an eight-hour day at work and the beginning of a strict, but healthy diet, I grabbed a protein bar on my way to the gym.  About 10 minutes through a class involving deep lunges, squats and lifting, I began experience a drastic increase in my heartbeat, followed by my ears ringing and light headedness.  

My stubborn ability to push through anything fearlessly kept me standing, but the booming pop music began to sound muffled, as well as the instructor’s repetitive counting.  Half a minute later, I was telling myself to not look like a sissy and to keep going.  The only problem was my body could not take any more, and I virtually lost all hearing while my eyesight became tunneled.  I panicked, grabbed my water bottle and rushed towards the women’s bathroom to sit down on a bench.

About five minutes later, I felt well enough to return to the fitness room and resume exercise as if nothing ever happened.  Until I began to feel dizzy for a second time about 10 more minutes later.  I then realized, my situation was no joke and I needed to sit this one out.

Unfortunately, if the body cannot manufacture its own iron, it is solely dependent on the food intake for an adequate supply.  So since the recent pass-out scare, I’ve done my homework, and I hope it can help others who struggle with the same issue.

As a coffee and tea lover, I’ve learned to never drink any before exercise, because no matter how iron-rich my diet may be, coffee and tea has ascorbic aid that blocks the body’s ability to absorb iron.  Calcium-rich beverages such as milk and orange juice also have the same effect.  Good sources of iron for anemics include almonds, beans, lean pork, turkey, spinach, oatmeal, potatoes and fresh fruit.

Next time I hit the gym, I’ll take my heart, diet, and iron levels into consideration.  After all, the greater the obstacle, the more glory there is overcoming it, so bring it on uppercut!