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Labored Breathing When Walking

By Rachel Moran ; Updated August 14, 2017

Labored breathing when walking may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition or it may simply be a sign to change minor things about how you move, breathe or exercise. Dyspnea, or breathlessness, is a subjective condition -- what may feel like a normal change in breath for one person can worry another. If you feel like your breathing is a source of difficulty when walking, consider a few key points to make healthy changes.


If your breathing becomes labored while walking, you may be hyperventilating. Hyperventilation is the state of overbreathing or breathing faster than what is medically healthy. Many people hyperventilate regularly from stress or poor habits without even realizing it. Make a conscious effort to slow your breath, inhaling and exhaling fully. In many instances, this solves issues of labored breathing while walking for healthy people.


Aerobic activity is defined by your body's use of oxygen. If you are walking quickly or on a challenging trail or incline, you need more oxygen. If your body doesn't get enough oxygen to fuel your muscles during aerobic activity, your breathing becomes labored. Stew Smith, author of "The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness" and "Maximum Fitness" advises that to fully oxygenate your muscles and clear your body of carbon dioxide when exercising, you should breathe a 3:2 inhale-to-exhale ratio. That means in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 2.


Obese people often have trouble breathing in many situations, but even walking can cause labored breathing. If you are obese, your lungs are not large or strong enough to lift your chest wall as required to bring in enough air. That makes even low-impact exercise laborious. Continue walking as much as you can. Since it's low impact, it's a good way to shed weight, so that labored breathing is no longer a problem.


In some instances, labored breathing while walking is the sign of something serious. If your dyspnea is accompanied by a loss of vision, blurred vision, dizziness or vertigo, call 911 immediately. You may be having a stroke or heart attack. Labored breathing can also be a sign of other heart problems, asthma, emphysema or pneumonia. Visit your doctor to rule these problems out if unexpected or unexplained labored breathing is persistent or worsens.

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