A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Shortness of breath: Normal or a problem?

Man walking up stairs

Climbing stairs may leave you out of breath because it works a different group of muscles than your exercise routine.

You exercise regularly, but when scaling a few flights of stairs, you’re left huffing and puffing. Why?

It may be the muscles you use in regular exercise are different from those engaged when climbing stairs, said Dr. Brady Didion, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician. If your exercise regimen is built around long-term endurance rather than quick bursts of energy, stairs may tire you because they require a sudden intensity that is different from your routine.

Whether your exercise is geared toward long-term endurance or more explosive activities, Dr. Didion said you should shoot for exercising three times per week, 30 minutes per session.

“Any exercises that you enjoy and that you’re going to be able to do for a long time are the kinds that I like to recommend,” Dr. Didion said.

When shortness of breath becomes concerning

Shortness of breath becomes a concern if people begin to experience it when they normally wouldn’t or experience a great deal of shortness of breath with only moderate activity.

“If the shortness of breath is persistent, it’s coming more often or it’s coming with less and less activity, and there’s other symptoms like coughing, dizziness or chest pain, those are all red flags,” Dr. Didion said.

Indicators of cardiovascular health

If you’re concerned about your level of fitness, one of the indicators to look at is your heart rate. An ideal resting heart rate is between 60-80 beats per minute, Dr. Didion said. When exercising, a good target heart rate varies depending on your age.

Another indicator of cardiovascular health is blood pressure, Dr. Didion said. He said a good blood pressure range is between 100/60 and 120/80.

“Most people who do a lot of cardiovascular exercise will have good blood pressure,” Dr. Didion said. “That being said, there are college basketball players who have to take blood pressure medication just because genetically they have high blood pressure.”

If you’re concerned about shortness of breath or your cardiovascular health in general, talk to your provider.

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