Whether you're a newbie to blood donations or a seasoned giver, donating your time and blood is a selfless act that enables you to give back to others -- and potentially save lives. Before or after you donate, you may be wondering how long you should wait before hitting the gym. There are some ideal ways to ensure your body is ready to exercise and that your post-donation workout is a safe one.
The Waiting Period
While each person's body experiences different recovery times, the American Red Cross recommends waiting at least five hours after a donation before engaging in heavy exercise or lifting. If you are a student athlete, wait about 12 hours or more before resuming strenuous exercise, depending on how you feel. You will also want to keep your bandage on and dry for the five hours following your donation.
Reduced Blood Volume
While you may think you're fine to jump onto an elliptical or bench press a few pounds, your body may not feel the same way -- hence the waiting period. You may experience symptoms due to reduced blood volume, such as dizziness, fainting or loss of strength, which can be a result of lower blood pressure throughout the body. This lower blood pressure, combined with reduced blood volume, may reduce the oxygen supply to the brain.
Take Care of Your Body
It's easy to see why exercising too soon can be dangerous to you and those around you. In addition to reduced blood volume, your body temporarily loses fluids. You'll feel back-to-normal within 24 to 48 hours by staying hydrated and drinking an extra four glasses -- 8 ounces each -- of non-caffeinated beverages. Your body will also lose iron through donation. To replenish your supply, eat healthy meals and add iron-rich foods to your regular diet.
When in Doubt, Wait It Out
If you've hydrated, eaten a healthy meal and waited more than five hours after your donation -- if you're an adult -- chances are you will be fine to exercise. However, if you begin to feel weak, dizzy or lightheaded, it's best to wait until the following day to exercise. If you're working out when these feelings begin, stop your activity, lie down on a gym mat and raise your feet until the feeling passes.
Alexandra Vairo is a writer and editor with experience working for magazines and websites including Weight Watchers, Shape.com, Greatist.com and more. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and communication from Boston College and is pursuing a master's in clinical nutrition at New York University.