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The Normal Oximeter Levels While Exercising

author image Jackie Carmichael
Jackie Carmichael has been a freelance writer for more than 10 years. Her work has appeared in "Woman's World" and "American Baby" magazines. Carmichael is a licensed registered nurse and has worked in fields related to cardiovascular health and psychiatry. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.
The Normal Oximeter Levels While Exercising
A woman has a pink pulse oximeter on her finger. Photo Credit: serezniy/iStock/Getty Images

During exercise, you breathe more heavily and more rapidly and your heart rate increases to supply muscles with needed oxygen. A pulse oximeter can be used during exercise to measure the oxygen saturation of your blood. Your pulse oximeter measurement naturally lowers during exercise because of changes that occur in oxygen-binding properties of red blood cells. Specific measurements vary depending on your health situation and exercise intensity.

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How It Works

A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive piece of equipment, often used in a health-care setting, typically placed on the end of your finger to measure your blood's oxygen saturation. The device uses red and infrared lights to measure the percentage of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body. Measuring this way is possible because hemoglobin is a different color with and without oxygen, and absorbs different amounts of light depending on oxygen level. The difference between the amount of absorption provides a fairly accurate level of your oxygen saturation. Normal readings are between 95 and 100 percent. A reading below 90 percent is too low and may indicate hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen.

Hemoglobin During Exercise

Hemoglobin is the component of red blood cells that binds to oxygen and carries it throughout the body; it is thus very dependent on the level of oxygen available. Your oxygen levels will likely fall during exercise because physical activity lowers the amount of oxygen that is able to bind to hemoglobin because of changes occurring in properties of the blood. Your body typically adapts to different levels of oxygenation during physical activity by increasing your breathing rate. If your body is not getting enough oxygen during exercise, your breathing will become labored and you will likely not be able to continue.

Benefits of Measurement During Exercise

An exercise pulse oximeter measures the level of oxygen in your blood during exercise and is a useful tool for serious athletes and people with health problems. For example, athletes routinely engaging in vigorous exercise, particularly at high altitudes, may wear pulse oximeters to ensure adequate oxygenation. Those with respiratory illnesses or recovering from surgery, meanwhile, may find wearing an exercise pulse oximeter during exercise useful for monitoring oxygen levels, the Pulse Oximeters website notes.

Disadvantages of Measurement During Exercise

Measuring oxygen levels during exercise has many benefits, but can also be problematic. According to a study published in the February 2002 issue of the "Journal of Exercise Physiology," an oxygen saturation level that decreases 4 percent or more from resting levels during exercise may be the result of movement and is possibly inaccurate. If there are questions about a person's oxygen saturation during exercise, another form of measurement may be necessary. An arterial blood gas test, for example, provides accurate information about oxygenation levels during movement.

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