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Why do I get cramp in my legs when I exercise?

A few weeks ago, some of the students asked me that question – interestingly, I get cramps too when I do yoga, mainly in the feet or lower legs. I am not a doctor or physiotherapist or the like. However, I did a bit of research into it.


There could be many reasons why we get cramps and it may be worth mentioning to your GP depending on the frequency and severity of these episodes.


Check the NHS website - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/leg-cramps/ - to have some guidance on possible causes and see which may resonate with you.


Also, check https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/conditions/leg-cramps


Is there anything we can do or try to see if we can prevent episodes?


Maybe.


How well hydrated are you when you join an exercise class? Ideally, we should drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day, drinking more in the morning and then less as the day progresses.


Breakfast or no breakfast before a morning class? It depends and we are all different. Personally, I always make sure that I have something, even if it is a simple yogurt topped with some muesli, and also, I leave 2 hours clear to digest. Had a big lunch? I leave at least 4 hours and sometimes more, it really depends on how much and what I have eaten – the digestive system takes longer to process and break down certain foods (eg red meat) than others (eg vegetables).


During the exercise, do you breathe properly? To perform, muscles need oxygen – it is that simple. Never estimate the power of the breath. As many have heard me say, during yoga never hold your breath, and use Ujjayi breathing to lengthen the breath. From Yoga Rahasya – Chapter 1 v. 33:


“During the practice one must constantly engage in regulating the exhale, inhale and retention. Ujjayi is to be smooth and slow, according to the strength and capability of the student.”

If you are holding your breath, you have gone too far; your effort is too great – straining does not make you stronger. Your mind may be telling you to push, to look how well that person next to you is doing, to compete with ego and others – avoid these distractions and listen to your body, be one with your body.


Are you getting sufficient minerals and vitamins in your diet to sustain aerobic or anaerobic exercise? As I write this, I have the image of Popeye in mind (hahaha!) and perhaps you too may immediately think of iron; well, yes, but there are other minerals that can help with the muscles’ performance. As it happens, I have learnt recently that magnesium has a big part to play. Underrated and overlooked, magnesium helps send glucose to the muscles and get rid of lactic acid that build up during exercise and that can cause painful and tired muscles. It seems that over the age of 55 it is more difficult to absorb magnesium; a government survey found that most children and teenagers are not getting sufficient magnesium in their diet.


https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-diet-and-nutrition-survey


So, what food have magnesium? Top of the list are pumpkin seeds (16 grams gives you 46% of the RDI). However – drum roll please! – 100 gr of dark chocolate gives you 33% of RDI! Yeeesss! Who said that chocolate is no good for you?! Magnesium is also known to help turn Vitamin D into calcium, as well as improve bone health, improve cardiovascular health, boost mood and improve sleep.


Final words


Having said all this, we should bear in mind the Government dietary recommendations (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf) and check with or talk to our GP, in particular if you are under treatment or taking medications.


So, I am not sure how we got from cramps to dark chocolate – however, I am off to add Green&Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate to my next shopping list!

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