I’m sure many of of you have been in a workout whether it be a run or some type of interval. Where you started to feel a little short of breath. The natural response is to say, “I can’t breathe!” Do you ever wonder how your able to get those words out if you are unable to breathe? The fact of the matter is that you can still breathe. Being able to get those words out means exactly that. If you have enough air to take in, then you have enough air to fill your lungs. As a Paramedic for the last 15 years or so I have heard this numerous times and when someone really “can’t breathe” there are no words coming from their mouths and barely any sounds. If this is confusing to you let me see if I can help you out some.
We all know the lungs take in air and blow it out right? Ok, so then why do you get short of breath whether it be from a disease process or exercise? Although each a different cause the body tends to react to stress in the same way no matter the stimulus. With that being said, let’s talk about what happens when “you can’t breathe.” Without making a science project out of it, yeah.
- Body reads increased effort or stress, nervous system responds and heart rate increases.
- When you breathe your lungs need time to exchange gases of waste and nutrients (carbon dioxide and oxygen). These gases are carried in the blood stream.
- In order for your lungs to keep up with the intake of oxygen and off loading of carbon dioxide your respiratory rate has to increase. Your heart rate can get in excess of 120 bpm. Have you ever seen anyone breathe 120 times/minute? Me neither.
- As your heart rate increases along with your respiratory rate, you breathing becomes more shallow. Why does this suck? Because those gases don’t exchange like they do in normal breathing. You build up and excess of Carbon Dioxide and other waste from cellular metabolism.
- Because you are not getting as much (not enough oxygen, you are getting plenty)oxygen. You muscles start to become fatigued specifically respiratory muscles, They are large and working hard to move air in and out of your lungs. Thus giving you the feeling that you can’t breathe.
So now that you have that, how do you fix it?
- Like most things if you don’t want to suck at something, do it a lot. You will eventually get better. Some faster than others. Practice breathing! Do this when not under stress and your body will respond. 90/90 Breathing and Box Breathing are both good places to start to get control of your breathing while at rest.
- Get under some stress, increasing your cardio respiratory health and efficiency will help to improve how well you exchange gases.
- Get a Grip! Don’t freak out! When you feel that you can’t catch your breath and it feels like you can’t breathe, first take a brake and take a deep breath, hold for a second and then let out slowly. Or think about the box breathing techniques talked about in the video below. Then once you have calmed down. Get back to it!
- Be patient, if you have never felt like it was difficult to breathe it can be crazy scary for some. Understand what is happening and it will get easier over time if you keep at it. Guaranteed!
You can breathe and you will be fine. Quick disclaimer. If you exercise or are sitting on your couch and you start to feel short of breath with significant chest pain or discomfort. This is something very different and could be a medical emergency. You should stop what you are doing and seek medical attention immediately. Sometimes it is actually that you cannot breathe. Check with your physician make sure you are O.K. to start an exercise program and check in with them often. If you are healthy from the start an maintain that commonly your breathing will get better. This is true for most with the exception of the ill and those that may not know they are ill. Being fit is not the only piece of staying healthy just like seeing your doctor on a normal basis doesn’t make you healthy. Take charge of yourself and your well being. Enjoy life, enjoy your family. Until next time.