Potential Reasons for Shortness of Breath When Running

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With summer at its peak, more people are taking advantage of the warm weather to get out and run. But with the higher temperatures, and sedentary lifestyles that many of us live each day, we quickly find that shortness of breath when running is a common occurrence. 

Is this a medical condition, merely a fact of pushing too hard too fast, or something else? Keep reading to learn about some of the different causes of shortness of breath when running to see if they might apply to you.

Why We Get Short of Breath When Running

The first answer to this question is fairly obvious, but it’s not the only response. Still, we’ll handle it first as it’s the elephant in the room: New runners get short of breath because they’re not yet in shape. But what does this mean? 

Running is demanding on our body’s systems, especially when we’re not acclimated to it. First and foremost, running causes our heart to beat faster as our cells switch into high gear and demand more energy and oxygen to function normally. Much of what the body needs is delivered through the blood, which is pumped by the heart.

Other than nutrients and energy, oxygen is the body’s most significant need. Oxygen is taken in by the lungs and added into the blood for its journey throughout the body. Like the heart, the lungs must suddenly increase their activity to accommodate the needs of the body. If you are running for the first time or after an extended break, you might feel pain in your chest. Some experienced runners will even feel this in the hours or days following a really hard run.

While this could be several other things, such as a heart problem or acid reflux, it could also be the lungs stretching under the strain of our sudden gasps for breath. The lungs are designed to expand quite far, but due to general inactivity, the unexpected high intensity of running sends a shock through your respiratory system.

Thankfully, as time goes on, the body will begin to adapt to running. Our lungs expand and contract normally and become more efficient, our heart gets stronger and moves more blood with each pump, and our metabolism accelerates and converts calories into energy and delivers it when needed. Similarly, our bodily tissue, such as our muscles, learn not to “freak out” at the new activity level, and use the body’s resources more efficiently. 

Now, these aren’t the only reasons you might get shortness of breath when running. You might be allergic to pollen, polluted city air, or dust. These can cause the respiratory tissue to become inflamed, thus decreasing its effectiveness. 

You might also be responding adversely to extreme heat and humidity, which are still at full swing in much of the country at the time of this article’s publication. Remember, hot air is less dense, so each breathe carries less oxygen, which can leave you winded. Cold air is denser, making breathing easier. Your best bet is to avoid the weather and conditions that make it hard to breathe. Head out in the morning or late evening, and wear light and breathable clothing,

If you return home and haven’t recovered your breath in 15 minutes, there is a chance that it is the result of something like allergies or sensitivity to heat, and not merely a lack of training. 

Finally, even trained athletes fall short sometimes. The term dyspnoea describes when normally healthy athletes experience fatigue or underperformance. This can result from airway dysfunction, iron deficiencies, an infection, or other issues. These may be occasional or temporary, or they can become chronic if not managed correctly.

Medical Condition Warning

There are other, very serious, cardiac and respiratory reasons for why you might become short of breath when running. The danger here is that the average person may not be aware of those serious issues as they are happening. It is easy to confuse a heart problem with just being winded until that heart problem progresses to the point of needing immediate medical attention.

It may be a good idea to talk with a primary care physician before you start running. If you haven’t spoken with your healthcare professional in a while, check-in and learn about why you may be experiencing new or worsening symptoms during or after your run. 

Support Your Respiratory System

If you are given the all-clear to go running, your shortness of breath may be a regular part of training. Make sure to build up your endurance by slowly taking your time – don’t expect to run a 5K or 10K in just a few weeks. Programs like Couch to 5K do work from some people. Along with running, make sure you are icing your knees and ankles after each run, and don’t forget how vital other exercises are to running successfully.

Between runs, do core, and lower body exercises can help improve your running form and protect the body from injury. Stretching is also important before and after you run. If you are still having difficulties, consider talking with a sports medicine practitioner about creating a diet and exercise program to help you reach your goals. 

You should also ask if supplements may be right for you!

Giving your respiratory system the support that it needs is essential to maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Supplements, training, sleep, and a healthy diet are just a few of the ways that you may help you become a more focuses and successful runner!





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