I am in good general health but I seem to get tired very easily. Every exercise class I have tried makes me feel ill. I joined a gym, but each time after about 10 minutes on the treadmill I felt very strange, sort of off balance, and my heart started racing. So I have cancelled my membership. Any advice?
One of my best “sales pitches” for doing regular exercise is how it gives you more energy – the whole day through. This always sounds odd, because people assume, perfectly reasonably, that you’d be using up all your precious energy in the gym, leaving very little for all the other things you have to do in an average day.
In fact with exercise we can cajole our bodies into making physiological changes so that we cope better with doing more: stronger heart, better use of oxygen, more developed muscles add up to less tiredness.
But this doesn’t happen overnight. And if you’ve spent most of your adult life doing very little exercise, you need to start with care, or your body will certainly revolt.
If a workout makes you feel dizzy, sick or generally spaced out, it’s normally because you have overdone things: forced your body to work harder than it is yet able to endure. For a body unused to exercise, a 45-minute step class is a massive shock to the system. As you get fitter, your body learns to move into exercise mode more efficiently and without complaint. So to avoid the extremely off-putting reaction you describe, you need to start more gently and build up gradually.
You should always begin your workout with a warm-up. Then, on the treadmill, you need to set a comfortable walking speed to start with, and increase it gradually to a brisk walk, perhaps with a bit of uphill, for your first few sessions, making sure you use the last 3 to 5 minutes of the workout to slow back down again to your starting level. In this way, you should be able to get through a session without ending up feeling ill.
Another option might be to switch from the treadmill to the exercise bike, which should prevent you feeling “off-balance”.
All this assumes you have no underlying medical problem, and it might be a good idea to double check with your GP that it is OK to be exercising. Then, go back to the gym, explain what happened and ask if they will help you to get back into a good routine by giving you a few supervised sessions. A decent instructor should teach you how to warm-up and what speeds to use on the treadmill, including your maximum speed and the right length of workout time, so you can be confident you are making progress without bad side-effects.
Finally, although you should never need to feel ill in the way you have been, you may carry on feeling tired for the first month to six weeks of regular exercise, while your body begins to adapt. After which, life is going to feel an awful lot better.