Why Am I Short of Breath When Working Out?

Shortness of breath when exercising is your body's way of telling you a number of things. Before you start any exercise program, especially if you're overweight, haven't exercised recently or have been diagnosed with a medical condition, you should get a complete physical exam from your doctor.

Feeling short of breath when you exercise is a sign you need to improve your physical conditioning. (Image: Vasyl Dolmatov/iStock/GettyImages)

Talk with your doctor about various forms of exercise that provide a comprehensive workout to gradually increase your endurance and stamina.

What Dyspnea Feels Like

Dyspnea is another term for shortness of breath; dyspnea on exertion refers to shortness of breath when doing mild physical activity such as walking. The most common symptom is simply the feeling that you aren't getting enough air. if you experience this, you may try to gulp in more air by breathing through your mouth.

A feeling of lightheadedness is also a symptom of shortness of breath that can be caused by exertion or exercise. The lightheadedness or faintness you feel is because your cells aren't receiving adequate amounts of oxygen. When cells are lacking or starved for oxygen, they cease to function as they should.

Physical Causes of Shortness of Breath

Overdoing exercise when first starting a routine is one of the most common causes of shortness of breath while exercising. Your body needs to gradually increase duration and exertion when exercising to increase aerobic benefits, burn fat, and increase muscular endurance and stamina.

Trying to do too much too soon causes excess stress on the lungs and increases the heart rate as the heart and lungs try to maintain adequate oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood flow to the muscles.

Underlying Medical Causes

Medical conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, emphysema, asthma, or being overweight or obese may make you feel short of breath while exercising. These conditions can lead to chronic dyspnea.

When your body isn't healthy and you exercise, you place extra strain on the heart and lungs to supply the body's cells, tissues and organs with blood carrying oxygen and nutrients such as proteins that enhance muscle function. Smoking may also cause shortness of breath, due to the resulting decrease in lung function.

Strategies to Regain Your Breath

Your doctor will advise you on the types of exercises you should start out with, as well as the duration of your new exercise program. Cardiovascular exercises are particularly useful. Follow your doctor's advice in regard to type, duration and number of exercises you start out with to help prevent shortness of breath, lightheadedness and possible falls or accidents.

By slowly increasing your duration and exertion levels, you can help your body benefit from stronger lungs, a stronger heart and stronger muscles.

Exercise Routines for Better Breathing

Start off with a slow walk, either on a treadmill or outdoors. Walk several times a week to start, beginning with a duration of 20 to 30 minutes. You need to build your exercise intensity slowly over several workouts.

Gradually increase your speed and distance until you notice a change in your ability to walk farther, faster and longer. As your condition improves, you can add other forms of exercise to your routine, including strength training, stretching, and both low- and high-impact aerobics to your weekly exercise programs.

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