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Health Tip: Don’t Exercise Before Blood Tests

March 13, 2012 · 34 comments

in Commentary, Health & Fitness

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor.  I am only sharing my own experience, and also some information that I found while researching elevated white blood cell counts.  

Once a year, many people go to the doctor’s office for a physical.  Usually, when the physical is set up, the patient is told not to eat before the appointment because the doctor will order blood work that requires fasting.

But has anyone ever told you not to exercise?

I know I haven’t been told, and but I found out on my own that you should not.

Did You Know Exercise Can Affect Blood Counts?

My physical was scheduled for 11:00 a.m.  I had physical therapy that day, but didn’t think twice about going to PT before my doctor’s appointment.  My typical physical therapy session involves at least 60 minutes of pretty heavy exercising, including the elliptical, light jogging, a lot of strength training, and some other cardio exercises.  In other words, it isn’t like a stroll in the park.  I went straight from therapy to my appointment, and proceeded to have my exam and blood work done.

The next day, I picked up my blood test results, and two variables were high that have never been elevated before- my white blood cell count (WBC) was 11.8  and my neutrophil count was 9.6.  The doctor’s office called and said it was probably just a transient event, but the doctor wanted me retested in two weeks.

Great, now I had to worry about what raised my WBC count.  I didn’t feel sick at all, so I didn’t know what caused the increase.

So, I turned to the internet, which can make your head spin, but also provide some good information.

In my reading, I came across study after study that showed the affects of exercise on white blood cell counts, specifically neutrophils.  Ironically, exercise can also skew results of cholesterol and  glucose tests.  I know my doctor is  adamant the patient does not eat at least 12 hours before a cholesterol test, but I know I personally had never been warned not to exercise.  It makes total sense though, but I had never thought about it before.

Results From the Retest:

After two weeks, I had my blood test redone.  I made sure I did not do any exercise the previous 24 hours.  My results came back with a WBC of 8.6 and Neutrophils of 5.2, both completely normal.   Of course, I will never know if the reason the counts were elevated in the first place was solely attributed to exercise.  However, in the future, I think I will just be on the safe side and make sure I take it easy before I have any blood work done.  As a matter of fact, it is recommended that to get the most accurate blood test results, patients should not exercise for 24 hours before a blood draw.   So, take that advice as an excuse to take a day off and relax before your next physical appointment.


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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Maggie@SquarePennies March 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Great tip! I had no idea. Thanks for sharing!
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The Biz of Life March 14, 2012 at 8:59 am

Interesting…… wouldn’t have thought your WBC would be up.
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Thad P @ thadthoughts.com March 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Kris, thanks for pointing this out. I had never heard of the impact of exercise on blood tests.
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Christa March 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I never thought about this before. I wonder if it skew the results of cholesterol tests as well?
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Kris March 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Yes it can- I will update my post!


Roshawn @ Watson Inc March 18, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Yes, way too often people, even health care professionals sometimes, forget or ignore some of some of the basics and/or nuances regarding proper protocol for some of the tests. I’ve corrected people numerous times myself. I’m glad everything was normal upon the retest.
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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager March 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. You would think your doctor would have warned you about that when you scheduled your appointment.


Andrew @ 101 Centavos March 21, 2012 at 8:22 am

Good thoughts, Chris. I’ve *never*been told to not exercise before a blood test. Fasting is bad enough … and one reason I haven’t gotten a blood test — the other being that I’m a guy and guys are not too high on doctor visits, unless there’s blood coming out of somewhere.
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Steve March 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Thanks for the information. It’s probably hard to get a decent workout on an empty stomach!


Joe @ Retire By 40 March 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I have never heard of that either. Thanks for the info. I try to schedule my blood test the first thing in the morning so I can have breakfast soon after. :)
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Small Business Loans March 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. You would think your doctor would have warned you about that when you scheduled your appointment.


Invest It Wisely March 30, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Are you on a hiatus, Kris? I hope you come back soon.
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Exercise Bike Store April 3, 2012 at 8:17 am

Thank you, I’ve read a lot of your writing and help me a lot :)


Jerry April 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Yikes. You didn’t eat AND you worked out? That would be insurance for me to pass out right there in the doctor’s office. J/K! This is really interesting information. I had no idea that exercise leads to changes in white blood cell counts. Learn something new every day!


Small Business Loans April 7, 2012 at 6:16 am

Thanks for the info. I try to schedule my blood test the first thing in the morning so I can have breakfast soon after.


Mike Collins April 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Last year my company had a holiday luncheon buffet the same day I was scheduled to have my annual checkup. My triglycerides were scary high, but they were fine a few weeks later when I went back for a retest.
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Kris April 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

Yeah, I think the triglycerides are supposed to be tested when fasting, so I can see how your numbers got a bit skewed!


Secured business loans September 12, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Yes, way too often people, even health care professionals sometimes, forget or ignore some of some of the basics and/or nuances regarding proper protocol for some of the tests. I’ve corrected people numerous times myself. I’m glad everything was normal upon the retest.


John September 21, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Stress and anticipation also greatly affect these tests. People who may have normal blood pressure for example, may test as having high blood pressure because they are nervous sitting in the doctor’s office.


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Pria November 17, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Didn’t know exercising could really affect the blood count. I guess you just really have to rest and be conditioned before the physical examination. No strenuous activities.


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Physical activity helps to reduce body fat by building or preserving muscle mass and improving the body’s ability to use calories. When physical activity is combined with proper nutrition, it can help control weight and prevent obesity, a major risk factor for many diseases.


Medicine for Cough and Cold February 27, 2015 at 1:52 am

Before I take my cbc exam, my doctor would advice me to not do any strenuous physical activities. Exercise does skew with the blood results.


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