Do you ever give blood? According to the Red Cross, every two seconds there’s an American in need of it, requiring roughly 41,000 donations per day. In the U.S., more than 100 million people are eligible to donate, although only about 9 million do so every year (1). Blood donations help people cope with diseases like sickle cell (affecting more than 90,000 people in the U.S.), and cancer (affecting 14 million (2)), which require frequent blood transfusions. Hospitals also need a continuous supply of fresh blood for surgical patients, laboring mothers, and trauma cases (1,3).

While a necessary and benevolent act, exercisers and competitive athletes should be aware that donating blood is not without physical consequences, including a temporary reduction in endurance performance (4,5,6,7) and in some cases, iron-deficiency (8).

Blood Donation Types and Functions

When giving blood, most donors opt for the more common donation type called “whole blood” donation or some choose a partial donation in which only specific aspects are extracted: plasma, red blood cells (RBCs), or platelets (9-11). During a whole blood donation, blood is taken from the arm and then separated later into its usable parts, which can benefit up to three people (9).

A partial donation is performed nearly the same way except that the donated parts, platelets for example, are machine-separated from the blood, then the remaining parts are returned back to the donors arm (9).

Regardless of donation type, every part of your blood can be (and is, according to the Red Cross) used to help someone in need (9). Here’s how each part of the blood plays a role in your body, and in saving someone’s life. 

Red Blood Cells

Increase your heart smarts with info on how exercise impacts your heart, how to measure fitness via heart rate, and top cardio concerns fitness pros should know.

How it Works

Your heart weighs only about 10 ounces and is roughly the size of an adult fist. This four chamber, centrally located pump pushes five to six quarts of blood, per minute, throughout your body.

• Each heartbeat is initiated by a specialized area called the sinoatrial node (SA node) in the heart’s upper right chamber. The SA node is often called the pacemaker (or primary pacemaker) of the heart, triggering electrical impulses that squeeze this part of the heart slightly earlier than the rest of the heart, forcing blood into the lower chambers for each beat.

• When you exercise, your muscles require more oxygen and nutrients, at a quicker rate, to fuel contractions. Your heart will beat faster to deliver more blood to meet this demand. In addition, the arterioles (smaller blood vessels leading from the arteries to the capillaries) serving the exercising muscles dilate to accommodate the increased flow. As these vessels open, other arterioles constrict in less active parts of your body, including your digestive system, skin, and the skeletal muscles you’re not using.

• Exercise makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart pumps blood more easily throughout this entire process, keeping blood pressure healthy or reducing blood pressure that’s too high. It can also improve circulation, lower heart disease risk, improve blood cholesterol levels, and lower resting heart rate.

Training with Heart

Heart rate is a good exercise-intensity gauge. Here are two ways to track heart rate to help improve and monitor fitness.

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