A Q&A with Newport Hospital Pulmonologist Samuel Evans, MD, About Breathing During Exercise in the Summer Months

July 13, 2016

Yoga outdoorThe warm (often hot) weather is here. You’re spending more and more time outdoors and as a result, likely getting more exercise. It can be normal to feel winded when exercising – especially during summertime – but did you ever stop to think about how you’re breathing when working out, and if you’re doing it correctly?

Newport Hospital pulmonologist Samuel Evans, MD, offers some tips.

Is there a right way to breathe when exercising?  

There is no "right" way to breath. Every person's body adapts differently to exercise, and while being aware of your breathing is a good thing, thinking a lot about it is probably not. The best way to breathe is one that is comfortable and unlabored, and breathing naturally can help to reduce fatigue, increase endurance, prolong workouts, and decrease shortness of breath.

Breathing in through the nose helps to warm and humidify air so it moves easier through the lungs, but when exercising intensely, we often need to breathe through the mouth to accommodate the lungs’ increased work. It’s also slightly harder for hot and humid air to move through our airways, so it’s not out of the ordinary for people to feel like they’re working harder when exercising outdoors in the summer.

When is it okay to be out of breath while working out?  

Shortness of breath can range from a completely normal sensation to a sign of a serious medical condition. Healthy lungs have plenty of capacity to handle exercise conditions, so if your shortness of breath feels familiar, even if a bit uncomfortable, it may be a good and healthy sign of appropriate exercise.

In other cases, your muscles, mind, and to an extent your lungs, just may not be in good enough shape. For example, if you’re used to running five miles a day and suddenly try to run a marathon, you’re likely to be short of breath.

Sam Evans, MD
Samuel Evans, MD

When should someone be worried?  

If you can't recover normal breathing with a few minutes of rest, there may be something wrong. For people with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) and asthma or other lung problems, the lungs have a harder time keeping up with exercise. Some who have these conditions can benefit from a technique called purse-lipped breathing which involves breathing in normally, and breathing out more slowly through lips pursed together as if whistling.

The most important thing is to know your body's limitations and push yourself only as far as is safe. Some know their tolerance level and can extend themselves – one extra mile, one more rep at the gym, etc. Others who are sicker can benefit from supervised exercise or pulmonary rehabilitation programs in which trained professionals help determine a safe regimen to increase endurance.

Everyone can benefit from staying hydrated, knowing your breathing and physical exertion limitations and not overdoing it, and trying to breathe naturally. Your body knows what to do.

Elena Falcone-Relvas

Bradley Hospital & Hasbro Children's Hospital
401-444-6863
efalconerelvas@lifespan.org