Exercise-induced shortness of breath

Getting out of breath and having serious trouble breathing often feel the same. It is important for people with respiratory diseases to recognise the difference between normal and severe shortness of breath. The rule of thumb is that your breathing should start returning to normal shortly after the physical exertion ends. Severe shortness of breath, on the other hand, makes you stop exercising and can even get worse after the workout.

Severe, exercise-induced shortness of breath can be prevented with good pre-workout warm-ups. It is advisable to do the pre-workout warm-ups in a warm and windless environment because strong winds and cold air can cause severe shortness of breath. If you often get out of breath when you exercise, you can use a reliever inhaler 10–15 minutes before or during the workout, as needed. You should always keep your reliever inhaler on hand when you exercise.

Sudden shortness of breath is treated with rescue inhaler medication according to the patient’s self-care instructions. It is also important to slow down your breathing and relax your mind. To relieve severe shortness of breath, use the pursed-lip breathing technique or sit down while leaning your forearms on your thighs.

Exercise-induced shortness of breath can be caused by:

  • an unbalanced breathing technique
  • bronchial constriction and excess mucus
  • changes in alveolar walls
  • poor condition of the cardiovascular system
  • poor muscle strength
  • environmental factors, such as wind, pollen, street dust, or freezing air.

How to prevent shortness of breath during exercise:

  • Warm up for 10–15 minutes.
  • Do interval workouts.
  • Use your reliever inhaler 10–15 minutes prior to exercising.
  • Exercise indoors during the allergy and street dust seasons and when the temperature is below zero. Wear a respirator mask or a heat exchanger mask outdoors.
  • Dress according to the weather. Protect your neck, mouth, and nose from the cold and wind.  
  • Exercise in a way that suits you best.
  • Know your limits. Be aware of the impact of age and illnesses. Your limits may vary depending on the day.
  • Exercise with friends or family. This can help reduce your fear of experiencing trouble breathing.
  • Remember to keep your rescue inhaler on hand just in case when you exercise.

Learn more about breathing and shortness of breath and the related physical and environmental factors.