Purpose: The aim of the present study was to assess the effect of prolonged and repeated exercise on iron metabolism in middle-aged adults and to compare differences between sexes. Methods: 50 male (58.9 ± 9.9 year) and 48 female (50.9 ± 11.2 year) individuals were monitored on 4 consecutive days at which they walked on average 8 h and 44 min per day at a self-determined pace. Blood samples were collected 1 or 2 days prior to the start of the exercise (baseline) and every day immediately post-exercise. Samples were analysed for iron, ferritin, haemoglobin, and haptoglobin concentrations. Results: Plasma iron decreased across days, while ferritin increased across days (both p < 0.001). Haptoglobin showed a decrease (p < 0.001) after the first day and increased over subsequent days (p < 0.001). Haemoglobin did not change after the first day, but increased during subsequent days (p < 0.05). At baseline, 8% of the participants had iron concentrations below minimum reference value (10 µmol/L), this increased to 43% at day 4. There was an interaction between sex and exercise days on iron (p = 0.028), ferritin (p < 0.001) and haemoglobin levels (p = 0.004), but not on haptoglobin levels. Conclusion: This study showed decreases in iron, increases in ferritin, a decrease followed by increases in haptoglobin and no change followed by increases in haemoglobin. This is most likely explained by (foot strike) haemolysis, inflammation, and sweat and urine losses. These processes resulted in iron levels below minimum reference value in a large number of our participants.
- Repetitive exercise