It's typical for anyone of any fitness level to run out of breath when working out intensely, even if your cardio respiratory system has been conditioned to work hard. But if you have trouble breathing during moderate or even light activity, there's an underlying medical issue. It could be brought on by allergies or may be more serious. Shortness of breath could be a life-threatening issue, so it's wise to get medical help.
You'll become short of breath if your airways become inflamed because you won't be able to take in as much oxygen as you need. Sometimes seasonal allergies can irritate your air passages and cause them to swell, making it difficult to breathe anytime, but causing particular difficulty during a workout, when your body tries to increase its oxygen intake. Asthma is another common cause of running out of breath, and exercise can even induce an asthma attack. The Mayo Clinic says that it isn't clear why exercise can be a trigger for asthma, but you could experience symptoms like coughing, wheezing and gasping for air just minutes after beginning a workout.
If a problem develops with your heart, you'll likely notice that you easily become short of breath, especially when you challenge your heart to work harder during exercise. Medline Plus says that heart disease can cause you to get out of breath because it prevents your heart from pumping enough blood to supply oxygen throughout your body. Additionally, if your heart is failing, it won't be able to effectively pump blood and other fluid out of your lungs, even during just the slightest amount of exertion, let alone while trying to work out. When fluid collects in your lungs, you may wheeze, find it hard to breathe and feel like you're suffocating.
Because your lungs are your body's breathing central, any problem with them will make it hard for you to breathe. The Mayo Clinic lists emphysema and chronic bronchitis as the two most common conditions that cause breathing difficulties. Long-term exposure to unsafe substances like noxious gasses or asbestos can cause scarring in your lungs, called interstitial lung disease, that will interfere with breathing. When you have conditions like these, you'll find it hard to exercise without becoming short of breath because of your lungs' reduced capacity. In their weakened condition, they won't be able to take in the oxygen that your body will demand during a workout. Even so, the Mayo Clinic advises getting regular exercise to improve your lung capacity which can alleviate symptoms of lung disorders like emphysema.
Stamina and Weight Problems
You'll over-exert and get out of breath quickly when exercising if you're out of shape and your stamina is low. Not everyone who has low stamina is overweight, but typically being overweight means being out of shape, and low stamina comes as part of that package. For someone who is overweight, even light to moderate exertion -- such as simply walking across the room -- can cause shortness of breath, and attempting a full-blown workout will result in over-exertion and difficulty breathing. Additionally, carrying around an excessive amount of fat compromises your health and can open the door to conditions that make it hard to breathe, like heart disease.
See the Doc
There's not much you can do when you have trouble breathing. There are no over the counter remedies to buy at the drug store, no cures you can carry out at home. Typically, chronic shortness of breath requires treatment with medication, oxygen or even specialized equipment. When you run out of breath, sit down and rest until your breathing returns to normal. Pay attention to determine whether you can tolerate it, or if it's worsening. If you can't handle it, call your doctor or even 911. If you experience bouts of breathlessness that come on gradually, and they occur for more than two days, get in to see your doctor immediately, especially if your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, fever or chills.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.