After your next workout, check your urine.
It might sound strange, but high-intensity exercise without the proper precautions can trigger kidney failure. One of the main symptoms is dark red or brown urine. It can appear even a few days after an intense workout, sometimes with vomiting, swelling, and muscle pain.
This condition is rhabdomyolysis. That means when you push your skeletal muscles too hard, they break and leak nutrients like potassium, CPK, and calcium into your bloodstream. Too much calcium, as we’ve warned about before, damages your kidneys.
Your damaged muscles also leak a muscle-specific protein called myoglobin. When myoglobin reaches the kidneys, it causes blockages, cell death, and eventually renal failure.
Several case studies recently point to a growing issue with rhabdomyolysis, particularly with the popular “spinning” classes held at gyms across the country. Spin classes involve high intensity workouts on stationary bikes.
Folks taking their first class sometimes get lightheaded and nauseated. Afterward, they may experience swollen thighs and dark urine… and end up hospitalized for rhabdomyolysis.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that rhabdomyolysis only affects about 26,000 adults annually. However, jumping into intense exercise you aren’t ready for causes other problems too, including pulled muscles, sprained joints, and hernias.
That’s why we wanted to provide a few common-sense rules for starting any new intense workout.
1) Don’t go too hard, too fast. In the recent rhabdomyolysis case studies, doctors pointed to a lack of conditioning. If you’re just beginning an exercise routine, make sure you understand what activities and levels of intensity you can handle. If you’re a gym novice, don’t jump right into lifting heavy weights or a spin class. Similarly, don’t try an at-home high-intensity program without the proper foundation of fitness.
2) Drink plenty of water. A lack of proper hydration not only hurts your kidneys, but your muscles too. Make sure to drink plenty of water before and after a workout. In fact, for higher intensity activities, keep drinking plenty of water for the rest of the day and the following day.
3) Keep cool. High levels of humidity and high temperatures both contribute to rhabdomyolysis. Too much exertion in extreme temperatures and/or high humidity leads to headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and even seizures or fainting… all symptoms of heatstroke. Heatstroke is a serious and sometimes deadly condition that can strike anyone.
And the older we get, the more prone we are to heat-related health problems. If it’s too hot to go out for your daily walk or run, do some indoor exercises instead.
4) Use painkillers sparingly. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as Tylenol, Aleve, and Advil all reduce blood flow to your kidneys. As we advised last week, use them with caution and try alternative pain-relief options first. These include massage, meditation, and heat treatments.
Although rhabdomyolysis is dangerous, it isn’t an excuse to stop exercising. Exercise is still the best way to prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even back pain and arthritis.
If you have a history of kidney problems, make sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise. An excellent way to get started is to build up a good foundation of low-intensity workouts before adding in short periods of intensity. In fact, we recommend interval training to help build up endurance. This can be as simple as adding in a minute or two of jogging during your usual walk.
What We’re Reading…
- The New York Times covers some of the folks who suffered spin-class rhabdomyolysis.
- Something different: Five facts about sharks just in time for Shark Week.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
July 27, 2017