By Casey Gueren for Women's Health
So you eat right, exercise often and still sound like a heaving, hot mess when you run up a flight of stairs -- what gives? Apparently, you can blame this on biology. Healthy young women report greater shortness of breath than healthy young men, according to a new study in the journal Experimental Physiology. Sounds pretty unfair, if you ask us.
The researchers compared 50 healthy, non-smoking men and women between the ages of 20 and 40 while they exercised on a stationary bike. The participants rated their breathlessness on a scale of 1 to 10 while the researchers monitored their physiological responses-- specifically, what was going on in their diaphragms. Not only did the women report greater shortness of breath, but their respiratory muscles were also working harder than the guys' were.
"Biologically, women's lungs are smaller," says lead study author Dennis Jensen, Ph.D., assistant professor at McGill University. "Their airways are narrower, their breathing muscles are naturally weaker than men's. So their muscles have to be activated more aggressively and have to be engaged more actively by the nervous system in order to move air in and out of the lungs during exercise." So even if you and your guy friend are doing the same workout, your lungs may have to work a little harder than his.
But as annoying as huffing and puffing might be, it's probably not anything to worry about. "It's a normal response," says Jensen. "It's not necessarily something people should be actively avoiding." Translation: It's not a reason to skip working out. That said, there are a few ways to make sure you're breathing easier during your next sweat session:
Regular interval training can help work out your respiratory muscles, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University.
Drinking water can help prevent dryness in your airways, says Olson.
"Pilates teaches deep breathing in this way: Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth," says Olson. It's a great way to regulate your breathing and activate your diaphragm while exercising.
Take Note Of Any Changes
Getting winded more quickly than normal? Give your doctor a call. "If your breathing becomes labored and unpleasant even during mild physical activity, it may be something you want to get checked out," says Jensen.