A Racing Heart & Shortness of Breath After Exercise

Tired athlete wipes the sweat from his forehead

You know that exercise is supposed to be good for your health, and you have undoubtedly tried to get into a regular routine. But when exercise leaves you with a racing pulse and unable to catch your breath, it's hard to stick with the program. Understanding how conditioning, nutrition and exercise selection influence exercise recovery can help you make choices that will change the way your body responds to exercise.

Heart And Respiratory Rate

During prolonged exercise you use oxygen to make ATP for muscular contraction. Oxygen is delivered via the lungs and cardiovascular system to the working cells. When demand goes up, your heart pumps faster and harder, and you breathe faster and deeper. When your systems are fit and healthy, this process goes on without a hitch, and your heart and lungs return to normal quickly after exercise. But some things can interfere with your body's ability to recover after exercise.

Post-Exercise Recovery

The speed with which your heart and respiratory rate return to normal is a marker of cardiovascular fitness. In a 2009 study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine," heart rate recovery after exercise was found to be a useful predictor of mortality. Improving your cardiovascular fitness involves regular daily exercise that elevates the heart rate. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise and/or 20 minutes three days per week of high-intensity exercise for optimal heart health.

Exercise Intensity And Type

Sometimes the type of exercise you choose and the level of difficulty exceeds your fitness level. If you sign up for Zumba because it looks like fun but haven't exercised for decades and are overweight, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, begin with the basics -- brisk walking and moderate resistance training -- until you improve your baseline fitness. Gradually working toward improved fitness will strengthen your cardio-respiratory system and make your exercise program easier to stick with.

Nurtition And Hydration

In a 2009 joint position statement by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada, it was declared that, "physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition." Failing to nourish and hydrate yourself can have a negative effect on exercise performance and recovery. Inadequate carbohydrate consumption, leading to low blood sugar, inadequate hydration and low hemoglobin resulting from inadequate dietary iron, can all contribute to delayed recovery. Eat a light snack, such as fruit or a bowl of cereal, about an hour before exercise. Drink water before, during and after exercise. Be sure to get enough iron by eating lean red meat and leafy green vegetables.

Breathing And Other Factors

Other factors that contribute to accelerated respiratory and heart rate after exercise include asthma, poor breathing technique and smoking. While exercising, always establish a rhythmic breathing pattern. Breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Avoid shallow breathing and holding your breath. If you smoke, try to cut down and eventually quit. If you have asthma, keep your inhaler at the ready while exercising. If you are being treated for a respiratory condition, consult with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.