From stitches to itchy eyes, a whole range of health concerns can derail your exercise routine. Here's how to tackle them
You’ve finally motivated yourself to hit the gym or lace up your trainers, but then something stops you in your tracks. Don’t let blisters, cramps or sore muscles get in your way. Find out how you can solve your workout worries with our top tips.
- You’re exhausted
Low iron levels are a common problem in women, especially those who suffer heavy periods, and they can make a workout feel significantly harder. In fact, studies at Cornell University in the US show that women with low iron levels found their workout twice as hard as those with healthy levels. ‘While you can supplement with iron, it’s best not to unless your doctor has actually tested your levels and found you are officially anaemic,’ says women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville. Too much iron can cause side effects like constipation. Instead, increase iron naturally by eating more red meat or dark green leafy vegetables like spinach.
2. You get pain in your chest
A dull pain that starts when you exercise, and stops when you stop, should be investigated. ‘This can be a sign of angina, which occurs when there’s a narrowing in the artery feeding the heart that stops it getting the blood it needs,’ says consultant cardiologist Dr Ajay Jain from The London Clinic. So see your GP.
3. You come out in an itchy rash
Exercising after eating some foods (eg, prawns, wheat) can trigger food-dependent, exercise-induced anaphylaxis. ‘Symptoms can be an itchy mouth, itchy eyes or a breakout of hives, but in a few people it can cause a serious anaphylactic reaction,’ says Dr Andrew Clark from Cambridge University Hospitals. See your GP.
4. You get cramp
Cramp occurs when a muscle suddenly contracts, causing pain. It’s more likely if you’ve been exercising for a long time or are dehydrated. If it starts, stop moving and try to gently stretch out the muscle. If it really hurts, try this tip from James Evans, co-founder of Xtreme Boot Camps, who was taught the trick in the Royal Marines. ‘Try clenching your fists,’ he says. ‘Tensing a muscle elsewhere in the body – like the hand and forearms – seems to relax the one that’s cramped.
5. You feel breathless
You shouldn’t have difficulty breathing when you workout. ‘Exercise is a common trigger for asthma,’ says consultant respiratory physician Dr James Hull from the Royal Brompton Hospital. With this, you’ll have a tight band-like feeling across the chest and may wheeze or cough. If diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe inhalers. If inhalers don’t help, you might have exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction. ‘This occurs when the voice box closes as you exercise,’ says Dr Hull. ‘It’s often mistaken for asthma, but the tightening feels more in the throat or upper chest and may be accompanied by a high-pitched wheeze.’ If these sound like your symptoms, go back to your GP.
6. You get a stitch
Stitch is a pain that appears in your side as you exercise and could be related to posture, says recent research. Those who slump their upper back forward when they exercise are more prone to a stitch as the position aggravates the nerves in the abdominal wall. Try standing up straighter when you exercise and the problem should vanish.
7. You ache too much the next day
This is actually normal – called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). ‘It can occur six to 48 hours after exercise and it’s believed to be due to inflammation that develops as a result of microscopic tears in the tissue that occur when we exercise,’ says personal trainer Zanna Van Dijk. It’s tricky to avoid DOMS when you’re new to exercise, but building up slowly will limit the amount you feel. Zanna adds, ‘Warming up and cooling down will help. You can try Deep Heat Muscle Massage Roll-On Lotion (£4.99, Boots), applied before exercise, too.
8. You get blisters
‘Blisters are small pockets of fluid that form between the upper layers of the skin, commonly caused when shoes or socks rub,’ says Michael Ratcliffe, podiatrist at Carnation Footcare. Make sure your shoes fit and that your socks don’t have rough seams. If that doesn’t work, try a lubricating product such as Boots Anti Blister Stick (£3.79).