Excessive panting, or gasping for air due to shortness of breath, after exercise can be caused by a medical condition like exercise-induced asthma or a heart condition. It also simply might indicate that you're out of shape or have exercised too intensely for your level of physical ability. If your doctor determines that you don't have any serious health problems that prohibit regular exercise, you will gain the most health benefits from exercising at a pace that doesn't cause extreme breathlessness.
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One condition that might cause difficulty breathing after exercise is exercise-induced asthma, or EIA. Symptoms of EIA can appear during or up to a few hours after exercise, and include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and sore throat. During an EIA attack, your respiratory tract becomes inflamed in response to exercise, making it difficult to breathe. If you are prone to this condition, an EIA attack might be triggered by lengthy aerobic exercise, or exercising in cold weather, in dirty air, or when sick. If your doctor determines that EIA is the cause of your breathlessness after exercise, he might prescribe medications such as bronchodilators, allergy medications, steroids or others that help prevent future attacks.
Shortness of breath in response to physical activity also might indicate an underlying heart condition. Breathlessness, especially if accompanied by chest pain, after exercise might be caused by cardiovascular disease, a condition that causes blood vessels to become narrow or obstructed, blocking the flow of blood to your heart. Depending on the severity and progression of cardiovascular disease, it might result in angina, heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. Other types of heart conditions, including congenital heart defects or cardiomyopathy, can cause you to become short of breath in response to even light exercise. Vigorous-intensity exercise might be particularly hazardous for people with risk factors for heart disease, including older people, sedentary people, diabetics and people with high blood pressure.
Exercise Intensity and Breathlessness
If you don't have an underlying health condition, heavy, rapid breathing after exercise typically indicates that you've been working out at a high intensity in relation to your abilities. According to the American Heart Association, if you get out of breath quickly from exercising, especially if you have to stop exercising in order to catch your breath, you're probably working out too hard. To get the most health benefits from exercise, it is better to work out at an intensity that elevates your heart rate and breath rate, but doesn't cause you to tire and quit exercising too quickly. You're working out at an appropriate intensity if you're exercising within your target heart rate range: 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you have enough breath to carry a conversation during exercise, but not enough to sing, you are probably working out within this range, according to the AHA.
When to See A Doctor
It is important to seek emergency medical treatment if your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, an irregular heartbeat or fainting. You also should call 911 if you are so short of breath that you have difficulty walking and talking. While exercise is a good way to prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases, the AHA recommends seeing a doctor before starting an exercise program if you are middle-age or older and haven't worked out in a long time, you've previously been diagnosed with a heart condition, you're taking blood pressure medication, or if you feel extreme breathlessness after mild physical exertion.