If you feel out of breath after walking up the stairs, here’s how to fix it

How many times have you been to walk alonggoing your own way, when suddenly a short flight of stairs takes all the breath out of your lungs? I’d like to consider myself in good shape, but I can barely carry on a conversation with my walking buddy when I’m walking up a flight of stairs that are more than one floor up.

It turns out that getting out of breath while doing simple activities is not a sign that you… out of shape — it’s something that happens to everyone, fit or not. Luckily, you can reduce the frequency of this by incorporating a few simple habit changes into your daily routine. Read on to learn how to conquer the stairs.

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Why do I get out of breath so quickly and what causes this?

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If you check your heart rate, chances are it has increased significantly.

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The medical term for what happens when you get out of breath climbing stairs is ‘exercise intolerance’. When you walk up the stairs, you are not warmed up — your muscles are cold, you heartbeat is low and your body is not ready to move suddenly. When you start climbing, you are essentially doing one leg squats with some cardio mixed in, and your heart rate quickly increases. Your body suddenly needs more oxygen — hence the feeling of being out of breath.

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Another reason it affects you so much is because stair climbing uses your fast twitch muscle groups, which are used for explosive movements, and muscles like your glutes that you don’t normally train. If you’re a cardio fanatic like me, you’re in great shape, but sustained exercises like this use slow twitch muscle groups. So it’s not going to transfer as well to exercises like stair climbing.

If you’re a regular at the gym but the stairs still give you trouble, don’t worry that you’re not in good shape. There are plenty of other ways to measure your overall health and fitness, including your heart rate or other metrics like body composition and strength.

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How can I avoid getting out of breath so often?

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Lunges make it easy to climb the stairs.

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If getting out of breath while climbing stairs is really putting a damper on your life, there are steps you can take to lessen the annoyance. I’m not going to suggest jogging in place to warm up before taking a short flight of stairs with your boss, but here are a few ways to prepare yourself ahead of time.

First, incorporate stair-specific exercises into your workout routine to train your body for the stimulus. Exercises like sprints, jumps, or other explosive movements will help with the sudden exertion. To work your glutes and legs, try bodyweight exercises such as squats and lunges.

If you smoke cigarettes, it almost certainly contributes to your breathlessness. Although e-cigarettes are touted as a healthy alternative, preliminary studies suggest that vapors also damages your lungs.

When should you call your doctor?

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If you feel that your breathlessness is outside the normal range, contact your doctor.

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If you are unsure whether to call a doctor, it is better to be safe than sorry. One important warning sign to look out for is chest pain that occurs when you are out of breath. This could be a sign of heart disease or a coronary blockage. The doctor will perform a stress test and if you do have a blockage, there is a simple procedure to remove it. Swollen feet and ankles or coughing are other signs that something may be wrong with your heart.

Another reason to seek medical attention is if getting out of breath from basic activities is interfering with your daily life — for example, if you avoid walking short distances. Or if the condition doesn’t improve when you start moving more, it may be time to see a doctor or physical therapist.

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